In a 5-2 decision the New Jersey Supreme court has voted to expand police authority for warrantless car searches. This ruling helps to broaden police authority to conduct searches of vehicles based on probable cause.
This new decision stems from a Salem county many who was arrested after being stopped for suspicion of DWI. In December of 2012, William Witt was stopped on Route 48 after passing a police officer with his high beams on. After speaking with Mr. Witt, the police officer concluded that he was intoxicated and conducted a field sobriety test.
At that point in time the officer conducted a field sobriety test which Mr. Witt failed. While searching the vehicle for an open container, the police officer found a handgun.
At trial Mr. Witt attempted to suppress the handgun as evidence stating that his rights had been violated when the police conducted a warrantless search in violation of the state constitution.
Although Federal Law allows for warrantless searches based on probable cause, New Jersey has long had a strict two-pronged standard for police searches of cars.
This two-pronged standard required both probable cause and the belief that the evidence might disappear or jeopardize the safety of the officer or the public.
Response to expanded police authority for warrantless searches was met with both opposition and praise.
State legislators such as Acting state Attorney General John Hoffman had this to say:
“The Court has achieved an appropriate balance between protection of citizens’ constitutional rights and the paramount need for public protection and officer safety”
While critics such as Alexander Shalom, an attorney for the New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union were not happy
“With today’s decision, those protections no longer exist and police will be able to routinely conduct warrantless searches of vehicles,”
Today’s decision will have far reaching implications for New Jersey motorists for years to come.