Can You Get Pulled Over For Tinted Windows in California?

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Are Tinted Windows Illegal In California?

Is it legal for an officer to stop you for tinted windows and then arrest you for DUI? Yes. But, in court, the officer has to say more than just that he just saw tinted windows. As the cases below show, the officer also needs to have significant experience and must explain why and/or how the windows were illegally tinted. 

For example, California Highway Patrol Officer Meza pulled over Mr. Hanes for tinted windows. This led to a DUI arrest. 

Was The 4th Amendment Violated?

The DUI defense attorney for Mr. Hanes filed a motion to suppress on the grounds that Officer Meza violated Mr. Hanes’s 4th Amendment rights

At the hearing on the motion to suppress the evidence, Officer Meza testified that he had three years of experience and had stopped vehicles on suspicion of having illegally tinted windows approximately 400 times. He saw Mr. Hanes drive through the intersection, passing by him at 10-15 miles per hour.

The intersection was lighted. He saw that the right front window was “so black that it kind of matched the color of the car.” He also testified that he was unable to see the occupants of the vehicle.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress evidence. Mr. Hanes appealed.

The Appellate Department of the Ventura County Superior Court noted that Mr. Hanes relied on People v. Butler, (1988) 202 Cal. App. 3d 602, 607, which says:

“We disagree with the People’s suggestion that seeing someone lawfully driving with tinted glass raises a reasonable suspicion of illegality such that a reasonable inquiry is justified. Without additional articulable facts suggesting that the tinted glass is illegal, the detention rests upon the type of speculation which may not properly support an investigative stop.”

The Appellate Department of the Ventura County Superior Court went on to further say that the Court of Appeal in Butler found the evidence in that case “insufficient to support a reasonable suspicion that the tinting was illegal, noting that the officer had observed the vehicle from a distance late at night as he drove by and, again, as it “sped past him.”

The Appellate Department of the Ventura County Superior Court then explained that the case upon which the prosecution relied to oppose Mr. Hanes’s motion, People v. Niebauer, (1989) 214 Cal. App. 3d 1278, is more appropriate. The court explained,

“If an officer forms an opinion in a commonsense examination of a vehicle that there is a film placed upon the vehicle’s windows in an unauthorized place or that light is obstructed in the fashion contemplated by the statute, such evidence will be sufficient to support a conviction under Section 26708, (a) if the trial court believes the officer; no further evidence or scientific testimony need be presented.”

Furthermore, it was unnecessary for the officer to have “training or expertise regarding light transmittance, given that he had experience with detaining other drivers with the same type of tinting after observing their difficulty seeing through their windows at night.”

The Court of Appeal in Niebauer noted in a footnote that People v. Butler would have been distinguishable because the officer in People v. Niebauer “testified to additional facts giving him reasonable suspicion that Niebauer was driving with illegally tinted windows other than merely the bare statement that Niebauer’s truck had tinted windows.”

The Appellate Department of the Ventura County Superior Court stressed that “In Butler, the Court of Appeal held only that a detention for tinted windows is unlawful “without additional articulable facts suggesting that the tinted glass is illegal.” “We conclude that where such additional facts are present, a vehicle stop to investigate the legality of tinted windows is lawful.”

The Appellate Department said the facts supporting the detention in the present case are like those found sufficient to convict in People v. Niebauer. Finding the detention reasonable and legal, the Appellate Department listed “additional articulable facts:”
• Officer Meza had substantial experience in enforcing this particular statute.
• Since it was nighttime, illegal tinting was a greater safety concern.
• Mr. Hanes passed relatively slowly and directly in front of the officer at a lighted intersection.
• The tinting was so dark as to appear black and prevent the officer from seeing the occupants of the front seats.

This opinion can be found at People v. Hanes (1997) 60 Cal. App. 4th Supp. 6.

If you have been arrested for a DUI, contact The Law Office of Richard Wagner at 714.721.4423.

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