Generally, if the police search your car without a valid reason or your permission, they violate your constitutional rights. Per the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, you have protections against unlawful search and seizure, including to your vehicle. To make a traffic stop, police first have to suspect that you have committed a crime, such as a traffic violation, But they do not automatically have the right to search your car just because they caught you speeding or running a red light. You should answer, “No” if the police ask for permission to search your car. For more information on whether police have the authority to search your car in New Jersey, please continue reading, then contact an experienced Camden County criminal defense attorney today.
Under what circumstances can vehicle searches occur in New Jersey?
Despite the Fourth Amendment providing strong protections against illegal searches, courts tend to give police more leeway to search a car than a home. In general, courts will allow searches in the following situations:
- The driver grants permission
- The officer has probable cause to believe evidence of a crime exists
- The officer considers the search necessary to ensure their own protection
- Police arrest the drivers for a crime, such as DUI, and a search related to the arrest ensues
- The officer has a valid search warrant
Do you have the right to refuse a search of your car in New Jersey?
You can politely decline if officers ask for permission to search your vehicle without a warrant. It is your right to do so, even if some officers make you feel as if you can’t refuse. It is best to remain silent and not argue if the officer insists on conducting a search despite your refusal. If an officer searches your car without permission, law enforcement can’t use illegally-obtained evidence against you. Nonetheless, you effectively waive your Fourth Amendment rights if you consent to a search, and law enforcement will likely use any evidence against you in court.
Under what other grounds can a police officer search your car in New Jersey?
If circumstances warrant it, police officers may override a driver’s refusal by claiming they have probable cause to search a vehicle. While restrictions apply, state and federal laws generally allow search under exceptional circumstances, including when:
- The evidence is in plain view of an officer, and
- The officer reasonably fears for their safety or vehicle occupants act suspiciously
In the latter instance, the police may search for weapons or to ensure that the vehicle occupants do not destroy evidence.
For the record, police officers may no longer cite the odor of marijuana as the sole legitimate reason for searching a vehicle.
Speak with Thomas J. DeMarco, Esquire to further discuss your rights or ensure that the courts recognize them.
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Thomas DeMarco & Associates, LLC handles all criminal matters and is ready to provide you with our knowledgeable legal counsel. Contact our firm to discuss your legal situation.