In 2016, Mr. Roman-Rosado was driving with his girlfriend and her child when a police officer pulled behind the car and began to follow it. The officer observed a Honda-branded license plate frame on the rear of the car that touched the bottom 10-15% of the words “Garden State” on the license plate. Although the officer was able to read the plate in its entirety and no other writing on the plate was touched by the frame, the officer pulled Mr. Roman-Rosado over for a traffic infraction. When it was revealed that there were outstanding warrants for his arrest, the car was searched and an unlicensed gun was found. Mr. Roman-Rosado moved to suppress this evidence and the trial court refused.
The ACLU of New Jersey argued in its amicus brief in the New Jersey Supreme Court that the police search of the car was unreasonable as N.J.S.A. 39:3-33—the state legislation that prevents license plates from being covered and whose essential purpose is to ensure that license plates are readable—was not breached by the license plate holder on the defendant’s car and was a mistake-of-law by the officer that served as a means to substitute the officer’s hunch of a violation of law into an objectively grounded legal justification. The ACLU-NJ further argued that the use of these sorts of pretextual traffic stops encourages and gives sanction to capricious and discriminatory stops by law enforcement that disproportionately affect people of color.