Some Tinted Automobile Windows are Unlawful

The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently clarified the role of Pennsylvania’s elected constables, and the legality of driving a car with tinted windows, in a single case that came before the court.

A constable en route to a regional antiterrorist task force meeting was stopped and cited on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by a Pennsylvania state trooper. The constable was driving his personal vehicle, a BMW sedan with black tinted glass in all the side windows as well as the rear window. The court noted that it was undisputed that it was “impossible to see into the vehicle” through any of the side or rear windows. The trooper issued the constable a citation for illegal tinted windows and told him to remove the tint.

The constable appealed his subsequent conviction, claiming that he and all Pennsylvania constables are entitled to drive with fully tinted windows because their cars should be considered “government vehicles.’

The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code provides that “no person shall drive any motor vehicle with any sun screening device or other material which does not permit a person to see or view the inside of the vehicle through the windshield, side wing or side window of the vehicle.” The Code recognizes certain limited exceptions. Hearses, ambulances, and government vehicles are exempted, as are any vehicles for which PennDOT has issued a valid certificate of exemption. Also exempt from the prohibitions against tinted windows are any vehicles for which the driver has a medical exemption, issued by PennDOT after recommendation of the owner’s physician or optometrist.

In denying the constable’s claim to exemption for his BMW as a “government vehicle,” the court carefully noted that its opinion did mot “seek in any way to diminish or impugn the valuable contributions that constables make to the Pennsylvania judicial system.” But the court described constables as “creatures of statute and, perhaps, some remnant common law powers,” and not government employees or officials. Pennsylvania constables are locally elected peace officers, They are not employees of the state, or of the judiciary, or of the county or municipality where they are elected. Instead, they are independent elected officials with limited law enforcement powers. The court stressed the significance of the fact that constables are not directly supervised, as are police and deputy sheriffs. Because constables are not employed, salaried, or insured by any government agency and are not supervised by any authority, the court found that they cannot be considered to own “government vehicles.

Pennsylvania law does not identify a measurable amount of tint permitted in automobile windows. Instead, tint is illegal if, from the point of view of a law enforcement officer, he or she is unable to See into the vehicle. A driver’s use of a vehicle with tinted windows, standing alone, doesn’t justify a warrantless search of a vehicle, but it is one factor among others that can justify such a search.

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