As criminal defense lawyers in the Jacksonville, Florida area, it is not uncommon for us to see cases that were initiated by police after a traffic stop because the vehicle’s windows were too darkly tinted. The police can stop a driver based on a reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation has occurred. A traffic violation could be the more traditional infraction such as speeding, running a red light or improper lane change. It could also be for illegally tinted windows. In order for the stop to be valid, the police officer must have a reasonable suspicion that the windows are too tinted. The police officer does not have to prove the window tint is illegal with the appropriate device. Once the police officer stops the driver for illegally tinted windows, the police officer may then conduct a criminal investigation into a possible DUI or other crime if there is evidence to indicate some other crime is occurring.
In a recent DUI case outside of Jacksonville, Florida, the police officer stopped a driver because he could not see the driver through the tinted windows. When he approached the driver, the police officer indicated he smelled an odor of alcohol coming from the driver. As a result of this evidence alone, the police officer detained the driver. He ultimately arrested the driver for driving under the influence of alcohol.
The DUI case was later thrown out. A police officer must have reasonable suspicion that a crime or traffic violation is occurring to stop the vehicle, and the police officer must have reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring to detain the suspect. The police officer did have reasonable suspicion of the traffic violation due to the overly tinted windows. However, the court said that an odor of alcohol, by itself, is not sufficient reasonable suspicion of a DUI to detain someone. The police officer would have to have additional evidence of a DUI such as a reckless driving pattern, swaying, slurred speech or other evidence that the driver was intoxicated from alcohol or drugs.