9 Years in Prison Because of Tinted Windows?! NJ Man Wins New Trial
New Jersey's tinted-window law has been decried by many drivers as a cash cow for municipalities.
But one Irvington man lost more than $60 or so for a fine. He lost his freedom.
Sharaf D. Spears, 36, has been sitting behind bars at Bayside State Prison in Cumberland County since November, 2013, after an Essex County jury convicted him of second-degree eluding. It was a conviction based, in large part, because of his car's tinted windows.
A Superior Court judge sentenced him to 9 years in prison. Now, three years later, an appellate panel ordered that conviction overturned and a new trial be set.
Spears was accused of trying to flee from a cop who wanted to pull him over outside the Short Hills Mall in February, 2011. During the chase, the cop said Spears drove 65 mph in a 25 mph zone.
Normally, failing to stop for a cop is a third-degree offense, punishable by three to five years in prison — although first-time offenders can avoid any jail time.
But it becomes a more serious second-degree crime “if the flight or attempt to elude creates a risk of death or injury to any person.” That risk is “inferred” if, in addition to the alluding, the driver also committed another motor vehicle offense under Chapter 4 of Title 39, which is the state’s collection of motor vehicle and traffic regulations.
Tinted windows, however, is a less serious offense under a different chapter of the code — and therefore, shouldn't have applied to this case.
In his appeal, Spears’ public defender said the judge improperly instructed the jury when he mentioned the tinted windows to them. Essex County Acting Prosecutor Carolyn Murray argued against the appeal by saying that the judge’s mention of the tinted windows was just “fleeting.”
But the two-judge appellate panel, in a decision released Tuesday, found that the “fleeting” reference was enough to throw out the conviction because it was “likely the jury seized on the tinted-window violation as the ground upon which it convicted defendant of second-degree alluding.”
Spears' criminal record includes several drug and theft convictions dating back to 1997, court records show.
New Jersey law prohibits add-on tinting of windshields and front side car windows. People can seek a medical exception from the Motor Vehicles Commission.
A proposal by Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, R-Somerset, would replace the law with new regulations that would allow tinted windows as long as they are not too dark.