Consenting to a Car Search in New Jersey

Do I Have to Consent to a Car Search?

police-traffic-stopIf you have been pulled over on any New Jersey road, a police officer may ask you to consent to a search of your vehicle. It is very important that you familiarize yourself with your rights regarding these search requests. First and foremost, you never have to consent to a search of your vehicle. In fact, you may be hurting yourself by doing so.

Many people do not realize that the issue of search and seizure is a constitutional one. The United States Constitution affords each individual certain privacy rights that cannot be invaded unless certain procedures are followed.

Furthermore, the New Jersey Constitution expands this protection to provide even more privacy rights. For example, the presumption behind any search, whether it is of a vehicle or a dwelling, is that the police officer attempting the search must first obtain a warrant. There are certain emergency exceptions that will allow a police officer to search without a warrant, but they are very narrow and are judged on a case-by-case basis.

What are the Requirements for a Search?

In general, the police officer that is asking for consent to search your vehicle must still have a “reasonable and articulable basis beyond the initial valid motor vehicle stop to continue the detention after completion of the valid traffic stop.” This statement is derived from the court decision in State v. Carty. When a police officer pulls you over, he must have probable cause to search your vehicle. Absent probable cause, he has no reason to search.

Examples of probable cause may include a weapon in plain view, drugs in plain view, statements by the driver that give the officer a reason to believe illegal activity is afoot, and a fear for the officer’s safety or those that may be nearby. Even still, the presumption is that once the police officer gains this probable cause, he can get a warrant or ask for consent to search the car.

The reason a police officer must have this probable cause to obtain your consent or to get a warrant is because the New Jersey Constitution and those who interpret it believe that detainment longer than reasonable for the type of traffic stop effectuated leads to a de facto arrest. A de facto arrest is one that takes place simply because you have been detained and are being questioned and/or searched. If this occurs, a police officer must read you your Miranda rights. So, it is very important to not consent to a search of your motor vehicle.

What if I Decide to Consent to the Car Search?

If you do decide to consent to the police officer’s search of your vehicle, you have the absolute right to stop the search at any time. You may also narrow the search to areas that you are comfortable with. For example, you can tell the officer that he may search the trunk but not the glove box.

If at any time you want to stop the search, simply say to the police officer in a calm but firm manner, “I am requesting that you stop searching my vehicle.” Do not under any circumstances touch the police officer or use force to get him to stop as you will have much bigger problems and may be arrested if you do so. Simply remain calm and make your request to stop heard. If the officer exceeds the limits you placed on him, or even if he did not have an articulable basis to ask for your consent to search, any evidence collected may be suppressed at your trial.

Call a NJ Criminal Lawyer to Protect Your Rights!

Call Villani & DeLuca, P.C. if you feel that your rights were violated in regard to a search of your motor vehicle in New Jersey. If you believe that a police officer did not follow the proper procedures, call one of the firm’s experienced criminal and motor vehicle attorneys today for a free initial conversation.