Indiana Supreme Court OKs stops for too-dark windows, even if tint is legal

2013-07-07T17:45:00Z Indiana Supreme Court OKs stops for too-dark windows, even if tint is legalDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
July 07, 2013 5:45 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | Motorists with tinted vehicle windows may find themselves getting pulled over more often following a recent Indiana Supreme Court ruling.

In a 5-0 decision, the state's high court authorized police to stop vehicles with tinted windows if an officer believes the windows are too dark, regardless of whether the tinting complies with state law.

The Indiana window tint statute prohibits operating a vehicle whose front, side or rear windows are tinted to make it impossible for the occupants to be seen from outside the vehicle. 

However, the law states a window tint violation will be dismissed if the owner can show the windows have visible light transmittance of at least 30 percent.

On Jan. 28, 2011, an Indianapolis police officer stopped Erving Sanders for having window tint on his 1991 Chevrolet Suburban the officer believed was too dark.

According to court records, the officer smelled marijuana when he approached Sanders' vehicle and asked Sanders to step out of it.

A police search of Sanders' pockets allegedly turned up a plastic bag containing cocaine. He was arrested and is awaiting trial for felony cocaine possession.

Sanders claimed the court should disallow anything found during the search, because the officer did not have a legitimate reason for stopping him in the first place. A subsequent test of Sanders' window tinting found it transmitted 38 percent of light, within the legal limit.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed and suppressed the search.

But the Supreme Court overruled that decision and allowed it.

Writing for the high court, Chief Justice Brent Dickson, a Hobart native, said the claimed inability of the officer to identify the occupants of the vehicle through Sanders' tinted windows provided sufficient suspicion for the traffic stop.

"Although the officer was ultimately mistaken in his belief that a violation occurred, the traffic stop was based upon a good faith, reasonable belief that a statutory infraction had occurred and thus we are unable to say that the traffic stop was not lawful," Dickson wrote.

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