You aren’t in Pennsylvania! Warrantless Searches & Police Stops – What everyone must know about New Jersey
Police Car Stops & Searches in Pennsylvania – Police need a warrant
Summer is here and many Pennsylvania residents will cross a bridge and spend a substantial amount of time in New Jersey. Pennsylvania residents, however, are often shocked to find out how different the laws are in New Jersey. One common area of misunderstanding are police car stops and vehicle searches.
In December 2020, the PA Supreme Court ruled that police can no longer search cars without a warrant unless there is both probable cause and emergency circumstances that require immediate action. Pennsylvania through Article 1, Section 8, specifically prohibits a warrantless search of a motor vehicle unless police or law enforcement could provide evidence of exigent circumstances beyond the mere mobility of the vehicle.
This is major issue in all criminal defense cases but especially those involving illegal guns, drugs, narcotics, controlled substance, Drunk Driving and DWI.
Police Car Stops & Searches in New Jersey – Police DO NOT need a warrant
Warrantless searches however are LEGAL in New Jersey. This mean that police DO NOT need a search warrant to search your car following a vehicle stop if police have probable cause to believe that the car contains contraband or that a crime is occurring or has occurred.
All warrantless searches in New Jersey are presumed unconstitutional but it is a rebuttable presumption which the State can overcome. With that said, if your case involves a warrantless search the, State is required to file a brief at a motion to suppress once the defense notifies the court of its intention to seek the order excluding evidence. When a warrant is used however, the burden to initially file the brief is on the defense.
New Jersey maintains the right against illegal search and seizure in its constitution (Article I, Section 7). A motion to suppress evidence is an extremely strong defense tool especially in crimes involving illegal guns, narcotics, and other controlled dangerous substances (CDS).
Finally, if you’re charged with any crime and fail to file a motion to suppress evidence before trial, you, through your defense lawyer, waive the right to do so after trial. This means that you cannot argue this defense on an appeal which is a tremendous disadvantage, especially if you’re arrested and charged with a crime involving the illegal possession of drugs, narcotics, or a handgun.
A major issue in any criminal defense is the initial police stop. This is especially true in criminal matters involving illegal drugs, guns (Graves Act), and driving while intoxicated (DWI). In many cases, the basis for the allegations against an accused come from evidence recovered following a car stop. Like any jurisdiction, New Jersey maintains within its Constitution protections against illegal searches and seizures.
If a police officer sees a specific vehicle code violation (speeding, failure to use turn signal, running a red light), that is probable cause to stop a car because of the violation. New Jersey courts allow police officers some latitude to investigate crimes and other circumstances that could threaten public safety (i.e. drunk driving). If a person, for example, is staggering or making awkward movements on a street, a police officer has the right to stop and conduct an investigative detention of a suspect.
A common situation for many of our clients is where their vehicle, briefly crosses a traffic line without signaling, but doesn’t cause an accident. The fact that the vehicle didn’t cause an accident is irrelevant to whether the officer had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop the car. In this situation, the officer had probable cause to stop because of the failure to use a signal is a violation of the motor vehicle code in New Jersey. Once the car is stopped, the police officer can obviously issue a citation for the vehicle code violation but can also investigate any other suspicions of other crimes, like drunk driving.
Further Investigation After the Initial Stop
Keep in mind, however, that the officer must have independent suspicion of another crime after the vehicle is stopped and can’t simply rely on the original basis. When it comes to suspicion of DUI/DWI, or some offense involving illegal drugs or narcotics, police officers can use the evidence of certain odors, the appearance of the driver, or other passengers to investigate the situation further.
If you are stopped by police, I encourage you to be polite and respectful of the officer but do not consent to the search of your person or your car. I also recommend that you only provide the officer your driver’s information and do not provide him any information regarding your travels. While you do not have a constitutional right against chemical testing (blood or breathalyzer), you don’t have to answer any questions which the officer poses to you. The bottom line is police officers New Jersey don’t need much to stop your car! The State allows law enforcement to investigate their suspicions based on their training to ensure public safety.
Our criminal defense law firm wishes you and your family a happy and safe Summer season in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
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