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PIX11 Investigates: ‘Obstructed’ license plate tickets in NJ called a ‘cash grab’

FANWOOD, N.J. —  Driving around her central New Jersey neighborhood, Nina O’Connell now notices all the license plates that are technically illegal.

“Most cars have them on there,” she said while pointing one out.

O’Connell should know; she got a ticket for her plate while driving through Fanwood a few months ago.

“I was very confused and I said 'I have no idea what you’re talking about, what do you mean?'” said O’Connell, recalling what  she asked the police officer.

The $54 ticket was for an obstructed license plate.

“I said I didn’t understand,” O’Connell said, gesturing to her plate.  “I can see the plate numbers perfectly… and you can clearly see it’s from the state of New Jersey.  I said how can so many people be pulled over for such a ridiculous reason, it had to be more of a cash grab.”

A quick search on the internet will show plenty of other people from all over the Garden State who were written tickets for “unclear” plates.

“It’s a very difficult ticket to fight,” said veteran traffic attorney Jason Seidman, of the Law Office of John Marshall. “Technically under N.J. law, any imprinting on the plate can’t be obstructed."

That includes the top of the ’N’ in New Jersey, the bottom of the ‘G’ in Garden State, and of course any of the letters on the plate.

A spokeswoman for the New Jersey DMV said the department advises dealers to make sure their plate holders don’t block anything— but few listen.

Moreover, cops themselves are not beyond breaking the rules.

PIX11 found license plates obstructed by what appeared to be E-ZPass attachments on Fanwood Police vehicles — the same borough where O’Connell got her ticket.

Ultimately, someone at the state level could change this unclear license-plate law. The legislature could modify the law, or the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office could tell local law enforcement to use common sense and not write the tickets if officers can plainly read the plates.

“But this is a law I believe that’s 70 years old, a lot of things don’t change over time,” Seidman said.

But O’Connell has hope.

“I’d like to see the state take a good long look at this law and do away with it,” she said.

Because of inquiries by PIX11, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said the staff is now aware of the ticketing issue. She said before anything can be done, complaints need to be filed with local prosecutor's offices.

If you got an “unfair” obstructed license plate ticket, or would like to see a law enforcement directive issued, you can contact your local prosecutor’s office and tell them you want your complaint forwarded to the New Jersey attorney general.

If the local prosecutor refuses to accept or forward your complain, please contact PIX11’s Henry Rosoff at hrosoff@pix11.com.

Local prosecutors:

  • Sussex— (973) 383-1570 (no listed email)
  • Passaic— (973) 881-4000 contact@passaiccountynj.org
  • Bergen— (201) 646-2300 (no listed email)
  • Hudson— (201) 795-6400 hcpo@hcpo.org
  • Essex— (973) 621-4700 (no listed email)
  • Union—(908) 527-4500 ucpo@ucnj.org.
  • Middlesex— (732) 745-3300 Prosecutor@co.middlesex.nj.us
  • Somerset— (908) 575-3300 Bennett@Co.Somerset.Nj.Us
  • Hunterdon— (908) 788-1129 prosecutor@co.hunterdon.nj.us
  • Warren— (908) 475-6275 (no listed email)
  • Mercer— (609) 989-6351 (no listed email)
  • Monmouth— (732) 431-7160 prosecutor@mcponj.org
  • Burlington— (609) 265-5035 prosecutor@co.burlington.nj.us
  • Ocean— (732) 929-2027 DutyDetective@co.ocean.nj.us
  • Camden—(856) 225-8400 ccpotips@ccprosecutor.org
  • Atlantic—(609) 909-7800  (no listed email)
  • Gloucester—(856) 384-5500 (no listed email)
  • Salem— (856) 9350-7510 x8333 (no listed email)
  • Cumberland— (856) 453-0486 x11100 (no listed email)
  • Cape May— (609) 465-1135 prosecutor@cmcpros.net