Monday, August 2, 2021

New Jersey Today: Reading License Plates And Recreational Marijuana Use In Custody Matters

The New Jersey Supreme Court decided two criminal cases in a single opinion, both dealing with potential criminal exposure for a partially-covered license plate.

From the court's headnote

if even a part of a single registration letter or number on a license plate is covered and not legible, the statute would apply because each of those characters is a separate marking. If “Garden State,” “New Jersey,” or some other phrase is covered to the point that the phrase cannot be identified, the law would likewise apply. But if those phrases were partly covered yet still recognizable, there would be no violation. When applying the above test, trial courts will be asked to evaluate whether license plate markings are legible or identifiable from the perspective of an objectively reasonable person. That judgment can be based on still photos or videos. (pp. 29-30)

Applying the above test here, Roman-Rosado did not violate the statute. In Carter’s case, however, it is undisputed that “Garden State” was entirely covered. As a result, the plate violated the statute, and law enforcement officers had the right to stop Carter. The Court does not find persuasive Carter’s argument that the statute violated his rights under the First Amendment by requiring him to display the state motto, “Garden State.” The case on which Carter bases his argument, Wooley v. Maynard, involved two components: (1) compelled speech by the government; and (2) content a party disagreed with. See 430 U.S. 705, 715 (1977). Unlike in Wooley, the record before this Court does not include any statement or certification that Carter disagrees with the expression “Garden State” or finds it “morally objectionable."

The Appellate Division had this holding in a custody matter decided today

We hold that a parent's status as a recreational marijuana user cannot suffice as the sole or primary reason to terminate that parent's rights under Title 30, unless the Division proves with competent, case-specific evidence that the marijuana usage endangers the child or children.


In this case, the parents each admitted they had used marijuana on several occasions while caring for their preschool child, and the Division presented unrebutted expert testimony explaining the risks of harm associated with that conduct. Beyond that, the trial judge had substantial other evidence to further support his finding that all four prongs for termination under N.J.S.A. 30:4C15.1(a) had been proven by clear and convincing evidence. Hence, the judgment is affirmed.

(Mike Frisch)

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