Brief Brief: Turkes v. State, 199 Md. App. 96 (2011)
Issue: When does a perceived violation of window tint regulation give rise to reasonable articulate suspension to support a traffic stop?
“When an officer observes a vehicle that is in violation of window tint regulations, the officer may stop the driver of the vehicle and, in addition to issuing a citation charging the driver with the offense, may issue to the driver a safety repair order. In Williams, the Court of Appeals summarized Maryland law requirements as to vehicle window tinting as follows (Id. at 114 citing State v. Williams, 401 Md. 676 (2007)):”
‘The amalgam of these statutes and the MVA–ASED regulation is that (1) post-manufacture tinting is permissible provided that it allows at least 35% light transmittance and other conditions set forth in the regulation, including the requirement that a label stating the percentage of light transmittance be permanently attached to the window between the glass and the tinting material, are satisfied, but (2) if a police officer observes a vehicle being driven on a highway that is not in compliance with those requirements, the officer may stop the vehicle and issue both a citation for the traffic offense and a vehicle equipment repair order.’ (Id. at 114-115 quoting Williams 401 Md. at 685).
“The Court in Williams explained that a traffic stop is justified under the Fourth Amendment if the officer has a reasonable articulable suspicion that a traffic law has been violated. In the absence of objective measurement of the tint, which may not be feasible prior to a stop, the following standard applies:” (Id. at 115 citing Williams 401 Md. at 690).
‘If an officer chooses to stop a car for a tinting violation based solely on the officer’s visual observation of the window, that observation has to be in the context of what a properly tinted window, compliant with the 35% requirement, would look like. If the officer can credibly articulate that difference, a court could find reasonable articulable suspicion, but not otherwise.’ (Id. at 115 citing Williams 401 Md. at 692).
“Further, applicable regulations require that a label or sticker be placed on a window that has post-manufacturing tinting. Thus, if an officer stops a car based solely on visual inspection, the officer could check the car for an inspection sticker to determine whether the sticker indicates that the tint is in compliance with the law. If there is no reason to believe the sticker is not genuine, there would be no reason to continue detaining the motorist. However, if there is no label, or the label appears to be not genuine, “that alone may justify a citation …, a repair order, and some further investigation.” (Id. at 115 citing Williams 401 Md. at 692 n. 3).
“In this case, Officer Smith stopped appellant on a sunny morning. Officer Smith testified that, when he saw appellant’s vehicle, he was unable to see into the vehicle at all to tell the number of occupants in the car or to distinguish movement in the car. He also did not see an inspection sticker on the tint. He testified that he had approximately 8 to 10 seconds to observe the car before initiating a stop.” (Id. at 115-116).
“Those facts justified the stop, especially in light of Officer Smith’s training and experience in recognizing legally tinted windows. Officer Smith testified that he was familiar with the appearance of a legal tint at 35% and had observed the difference between legal and non-legal tints during traffic stop training at the police academy. He also had conducted at least 100 traffic stops for tinted windows. Officer Smith noted that, based on his training and experience, if a window’s tint is legal, a person should be able to see into the window because sunlight can get through. We affirm the trial court’s finding that the stop was supported by a reasonable articulable suspicion.” (Id. at 116).
Practitioner Note: Relevant tinting statutes: Transportation Article Sections 22-101; 22-406; 23-104; 23-105; and 27-101.