Tinted car windows can provide many benefits. They can help to preserve vehicles’ interiors. They also lower the vehicle’s internal temperature.
However, they can also reduce a driver’s ability to see and drive safely, so each state sets visible light transmission (VLT) limits for vehicles registered within its borders. Since each state’s laws are different, a car that is compliant with the laws of one state could potentially break the law if it travels to another state where the VLT limits are different.
This means the police could write the driver a ticket. It could also mean the police have probable cause to pull over the driver.
Transparency satisfies the legal standard
A recent court case highlights the significance of these issues.
A defendant appealed the denial of a motion to suppress evidence seized without a warrant at a motor vehicle stop. A police officer testified that he had observed a vehicle with tinted windows and an Arizona rental license plate in the rear only. Acknowledging he did not know the VLT laws in Arizona, he stated that vehicles with tinted windows and no front plate had affiliations with a local gang.
The officer followed the car into a shopping center and noticed the driver look over his shoulder. Shortly thereafter, the officer pulled the vehicle, citing “tinted windows” and “suspicious driving behavior.” He testified that the driver, upon exiting the vehicle, had a gun on his person and controlled substances in the car.
In its reversal, the appeals court emphasized two legal points: the reasonable suspicion standard for traffic stops and the pertinent window tint statutes. Referring to a prior case, the court defined reasonable suspicion as whether the tint made the window non-transparent.
Having testified that he had seen the driver turn his head, the police officer failed to prove non-transparency.
Features such as tinted windows exist on our cars to reflect our personalities. They aren’t necessarily a sign of illegal activity, and they shouldn’t necessarily provide probable cause for a search or arrest.
An attorney who understands the requirements of a proper traffic stop and its consequences can provide guidance.