New Jersey Law Now Permits Car Search If Police Have Probable Cause to Believe That The Vehicle Contains Contraband or Evidence of Crime.
State v. Witt __ NJ __ (2015) Warrantless Auto Search Permitted on Probable Cause
By: Andrew S. Prince, Esq.
The New Jersey Supreme Court Held: exigent-circumstances standard set forth in Pena-Flores is unsound in principle and unworkable in practice. Citing Article I, Paragraph 7 of New Jersey’s State Constitution, the court returns to the standard articulated in State v. Alston, 88 N.J. 211 (1981), for warrantless searches of automobiles based on probable cause. The automobile exception authorizes the warrantless search of an automobile only when the police have now probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of an offense and the circumstances giving rise to probable cause are unforeseeable and spontaneous.
In this appeal, the court addresses the constitutional standard governing an automobile search and considers whether to continue to follow the standard set forth in State v. Pena-Flores, 198 N.J. 6 (2009).
The Appellate Division granted the State’s motion for leave to appeal and affirmed the suppression of the gun “because of the utter absence of any “exigency” to support the warrantless search that occurred,” and “because there was no justification for this motor vehicle stop.” State v. Witt, 435 N.J. Super. 608, 610-11 (App. Div. 2014). The panel declined to address the State’s argument that it has proved to be unworkable and has led to unintended negative consequences,” explaining that, as an intermediate appellate court, “it had no authority to replace Pena-Flores with some other legal principles.”
Although the court determines the exigent-circumstances standard set forth in State v. Cooke, 163 N.J. 657 (App. Div. 2000) and Pena-Flores is unsound in principle and unworkable in practice, it does not adopt the federal standard for automobile searches because it is not fully consonant with the interests embodied in Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey State Constitution.
The court returns to the Alston standard, which states that the automobile exception authorizes the warrantless search of an automobile only when the police have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of an offense and circumstances giving rise to probable cause are unforeseeable and spontaneous. The court’s decision limits the automobile exception to on-scene warrantless searches, unlike federal jurisprudence, which allows a police officer to conduct a warrantless search at headquarters merely because the officer could have done so on the side of the road.
The court’s decision is a new rule of law to be applied prospectively. Therefore, for purposes of this appeal, Pena-Flores is the governing law. However, going forward, the exigent-circumstances test in Cooke and Pena-Flores no longer applies and the standard set forth in Alston for warrantless searches of automobiles based on probable cause governs.
Please call Andrew S. Prince, Esq. at (800) TEAM-LAW or (800) 832-6529 for help from New Jersey attorney who understands your needs and lifestyle.
Andrew S. Prince, Esq.
136 Central Avenue
Clark, NJ 07066
1 (800) 832-6529
(732) 388-8711 — Fax
Additional Offices in New Jersey
Edison, East Brunswick, Jersey City,
Newark, Orange, Perth Amboy, Westfield
and West New York
When you suffer injuries in an accident, you have the right to file a claim against the negligent party and recover damages. As part of the personal injury claim process, you will have to deal with insurance adjusters. Insurance adjusters may have different job titles, but all do the same job. If you have suffered[…]
Summer is the best season for motorcycling in New Jersey. But, if cruising around the state by motorcycle is in your plans this summer, you’ll also want to take steps to stay safe. Here are a few tips for a safe, accident-free summer spent motorcycling: Know New Jersey’s Motorcycle Laws Before hitting the road this[…]
There are a few risks involved with riding a motorcycle. Motorcycle accidents frequently lead to injuries, and knowing the most common injuries can help you stay safe. These are some of the most common types of motorcycle accident injuries: Burn Injuries Motorcyclists are frequently thrown from their bikes when an accident occurs. This can lead[…]