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Court Victory on Dealer Plates—Personal Use Is Legal

Sep 02, 2004

Last spring, NJ CAR noticed a marked increase in the number of citations being issued for what many police officers believe is the improper use of dealer plates.The personal use of dealer plates is legal in New Jersey, and it is also legal to drive a new (never titled) vehicle, under a dealer plate, without an inspection sticker.Unfortunately, however, the law is not crystal clear, and sometimes a police officer, or even a judge, will simply disagree. In response, NJ CAR decided to assist in an appeal brought by one of those convicted of driving under a dealer plate.A large part of the reason that many police officers, and many municipal court judges, believe it is against the law to use dealer plates for personal use is because there is no clear legal precedent, no court decision which other courts can look to for guidance in interpreting the dealer plate statute.By assisting in this appeal, NJ CAR hoped to obtain a legal decision which would settle this issue once and for all.A clear legal precedent would not only guarantee that any tickets which are written in the future would be dropped, it could also prevent such tickets from being written. On August 6, 2004, Superior Court Judge Roger F. Mahon issued a decision in a Hunterdon County case involving a family member of an NJ CAR member, upholding the legality of the personal use of dealer plates.Judge Mahon’s decision is in complete agreement with the interpretation of the dealer plate statute as urged by NJ CAR and approved by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. As it stands now, this decision will be a great help in assisting municipal court judges to “see the light” on this issue.However, it is not yet a binding precedent.This decision will become binding on lower courts only if the State Supreme Court Committee on Opinions decides to have this decision published in the official case reporter for New Jersey.If the decision is published, it will have strong precedent effect and should prevent any further convictions for personal use of a dealer plate. In addition, the State prosecutor has 45 days from August 6 to take an appeal of Judge Mahon’s decision to the Appellate Division.If there is an appeal, NJ CAR will continue to assist in the hope of obtaining a favorable outcome in the Appellate Division.