Getting pulled over by the police can be a frightening experience, even for someone who has not done anything wrong. Many people do not know or understand their rights when they are pulled over in New Jersey. Generally, it is a good idea to comply with the police officer’s requests, but when the officer steps on your constitutional rights, you can refuse their demand to search your vehicle. However, you need to understand you need to understand your rights before you can assert them. Some of the main issues surrounding car searches are explained below. If you have been arrested because police searched your car in Essex County, contact our Newark law office at 201-654-3464 for assistance with your specific charges. One of our experienced criminal defense lawyers can provide more information about how New Jersey search and seizure law applies in your case.
The Consent Search under NJ Law
One of the most common concerns that we see is whether an officer can search your vehicle when you are pulled over. Many officers will specifically ask if they can search your car—and many people will agree because they are afraid of what will happen if they say no. Police also sometimes phrase their “request” to search your car in a way that makes it seem like you do not have a choice in the matter. However, you always have the option to say no to a search if you would like to do so. If an officer does not have your permission to search your vehicle, then he or she must have probable cause to perform a search. It is also important to note that someone else cannot consent on your behalf. Further, you cannot agree to have your passenger’s items searched.
Probable Cause Searches in New Jersey
You are generally protected from unreasonable searches and seizures by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Accordingly, officers must obtain a warrant to search you, your vehicle, or your home. They must also have probable cause to get a warrant to search your car. Generally, “probable cause” means that they have reason to believe that your vehicle will contain evidence of a crime. Common illegal items involved in car search cases include marijuana, heroin, drug paraphernalia, guns, and prescription drugs.
Although probable cause is required to get a warrant, police do not necessarily need a warrant to search your vehicle in New Jersey. Instead, they can conduct a warrantless search as long as they have probable cause. Essentially, because you are in a car, the requirement to prove probable cause to a judge before the search is nonexistent. This is because vehicles are readily mobile, and they could quickly leave the area with evidence that a crime was committed. The increased risk that evidence becomes unavailable or destroyed allows officers much more leeway to search your car than they would if they tried to search your home, for example.
What is Required to Search my Car in New Jersey?
At one time in New Jersey, the Court had also required that there be “exigent circumstances” that make it impracticable to get a warrant for a valid vehicle search. That additional requirement will often mean that the officer should at least try to get a warrant before conducting a warrantless search. However, New Jersey has since moved away from that additional requirement, noting that it is impractical in many situations. Today, an officer can generally search your vehicle if the following conditions are met:
- The officer has probable cause to believe that your car contains contraband or evidence of a crime; and
- The circumstances that initiated the probable cause were unforeseeable and spontaneous
Vehicle Search Defense Lawyers in Newark, NJ
You should always keep in mind that you do not have to consent to a search of your vehicle. You have rights! If you believe you were searched without probable cause and are now facing criminal charges, you need to contact a criminal defense attorney right away. Call the criminal defense lawyers at The Tormey Law Firm to learn more about your defense options. We can be reached anytime at 201-654-3464 and consultations are free of charge.