New Jersey Supreme Court OKs Warrantless Searches Of Vehicles

from the more-exception,-less-rule dept

We've written before about how limited the Fourth Amendment is when applied to drivers and their vehicles. A number of court decisions -- along with continually-reinforced exceptions -- have allowed police to pull over motorists for any reason imaginable. Once they have someone pulled over, it's just a matter of obtaining consent from the driver or, failing that, coming up with a reasonable approximation of probable cause. (Drug dogs are a favorite.) After that, no warrant is needed to search the vehicle, along with the contents of any container found within it.

The "automobile exception" is the federal standard. Not every state has adopted it but a majority of them have. Until recently, New Jersey hadn't. Under its former standard, the motor vehicle exception did not exist. Police officers looking to search a vehicle without a warrant needed to make use of the "exigent circumstances" exception.

To no one's surprise, obtaining warrants was the least popular option. When "exigent circumstances" failed to present themselves, cops would instead try to obtain consent. It sounds like New Jersey's stricter reading of constitutional rights meant officers were less inclined to perform warrantless searches, but this is only an illusion. In striking down this requirement, the New Jersey high court presented a clearer picture of what was actually happening in the absence of a motor vehicle exception.

The New Jersey high court concluded that imposing the added condition of an emergency was impractically strict and led to an unintended surge of highway stops in which police induced drivers to allow them to look through their cars.
Inducement was the primary tactic. The state also offered an expedited warrant request system, but it failed to speed up the process.
[Justice Barry T. Albin] said the state experimented with “telephonic” search warrants in which officers connected with the court remotely through phone conferencing. But the system, he said, failed to live up to its promises and resulted in “unacceptably prolonged roadway stops.”

The state court system tested out the technology in 2012 with a pilot program. In one county where it was tried out, it took an average of 59 minutes for police to get a roadside warrant approved. In another part of the state, it often took as long as two hours.
So, this didn't work. A footnote from the dissenting opinion indicates why. It's not that the system wasn't fast enough. It's that it was only used when other options had failed.
According to the State, the pilot program “by its very design, reveals why telephonic warrants are not likely to emerge as a viable replacement for the automobile exception.” The State contends that “[a]ll of the participants in the pilot program understood that police officers would continue their post-Pena-Flores practice of requesting motorists to consent to a search” prior to trying to obtain a telephonic warrant.
This "consent first" approach to vehicle searches is what stretched out these stops to nearly an hour, not the telephonic warrant system. But with the Supreme Court's Rodriguez decision making prolonged traffic stops Constitutionally-unfeasible, this two-step process for effecting a search of a vehicle is no longer an option.

Not that the consent route was any better. The court's decision notes that induced-consent searches have been problematic in the past:
Not long ago, the State Police subjected minority motorists to consent searches on a grossly disproportionate basis because of racial profiling. As a result of the abuse of consent searches, the State Police were placed under the supervision of federal monitors pursuant to a consent decree.

[...]

Given the widespread abuse of consent searches, this Court in Carty forbade police officers from making consent-search requests unless they had reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe a vehicle contained contraband or evidence of an offense. Still, that standard does not remove the coercive effect of a search request made to a motorist stopped on the side of a road. We recognized in Carty “the inherently coercive predicament of the driver who is stopped on the highway and faced with the perceived choice of either refusing consent to search and therefore increasing the likelihood of receiving a traffic summons, or giving consent to search in the hope of escaping with only a warning.” Under those and other like circumstances, “it is not a stretch of the imagination to assume that the individual feels compelled to consent.”
Despite these concerns, the court finds the requirement of a warrant to search a stopped motorist's vehicle is too constrictive. It weighs law enforcement's interests against the Fourth Amendment and -- surprise -- finds in favor of law enforcement.
The current approach to roadside searches premised on probable cause -- “get a warrant” -- places significant burdens on law enforcement. On the other side of the ledger, we do not perceive any real benefit to our citizenry by the warrant requirement in such cases -- no discernible advancement of their liberty or privacy interests. When a police officer has probable cause to search a car, is a motorist better off being detained on the side of the road for an hour (with all the accompanying dangers) or having his car towed and impounded at headquarters while the police secure a warrant? Is not the seizure of the car and the motorist’s detention “more intrusive than the actual search itself”?
It's always disheartening to hear a court conclude that, after weighing all factors, there's not enough of a net gain to civil liberties to prevent further diminishment of Fourth Amendment protections. The court apparently feels motorists would be happier having their rights violated than their car impounded or their traffic stop extended. If this is true, there's no reason for this ruling. Citizens are perfectly capable of weighing these factors and making these decisions themselves. That's exactly what consent is.

Rather than stay ahead of the curve in terms of Constitutional protections, New Jersey's court has opted to let law enforcement needs take priority over the privacy of its residents.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Sep 2015 @ 9:29pm

    Must have missed that bit

    I think I need to go re-read the constitution, apparently I missed the footnote saying that any of the 'rights' listed can be ignored if complying would be just too much of a hassle.

    'Getting a warrant is difficult' is a feature, not a bug. It's supposed to be difficult to be allowed to search through someone's possessions, I just wish more courts stopped bending over backwards for anyone with a badge and recognized this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jeremy Lyman (profile), 30 Sep 2015 @ 4:37am

      Re: Must have missed that bit

      I'm pretty sure that Thomas Jefferson, on announcing the adoption of the 4th amendment, said "this measure will ensure the rights and liberties of our citizens are not unduly impinged; you know, unless it's like hard and stuff. Totally just ignore this if it seems like a burden. Oh, and we specifically didn't mention buggies or ships here, so it doesn't apply to personal transport. Don't bother getting a warrant if someone's going to be waiting around for like two hours. That's ridiculous."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 30 Sep 2015 @ 11:09am

        Re: Re: Must have missed that bit

        I think this is supposed to be one of those tyranny lights to indicate it's time to resist.

        Search or Seizure without judicial oversight or probable cause (because protocol is inconvenient) = Tyranny!

        No search protections + Civil Forfeiture should make for some interesting New Jersey incidents.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 30 Sep 2015 @ 12:12am

    Well, hello?

    The current approach to roadside searches premised on probable cause -- “get a warrant” -- places significant burdens on law enforcement.

    Why would one spell something out in the Bill of Rights if there was no incentive for the government to do otherwise? Of course the Bill of Rights places significant burdens on law enforcement. That's its whole point.

    When are U.S. marathon runners going to declare that they should not need to run more than 5km for their races since it would place a significant burden on them to run a multiple of that distance?

    The rules for the government are spelled out in the Bill of Rights. If you don't want to go the distance, get a job elsewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 12:33am

    Another leap forward to a police state.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 1:25am

    Just another rogue court, and being that it is New Jersey...
    Do they give said motorists a reach around? I doubt it. All I can add is that they drew first blood.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 3:23am

    No search warrant for you

    This from a state who's Governor said "‘Go get a search warrant.’ Well, that’s not the way it works.”

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    NoahVail (profile), 30 Sep 2015 @ 4:37am

    Drivers face a choice of either refusing consent to search and therefore increasing the likelihood of receiving a traffic summons, or giving consent to search in the hope of escaping with only a warning. Under those and other like circumstances, it is not a stretch of the imagination to assume that the individual feels compelled to consent.

    The court apparently feels motorists would be happier having their rights violated than their car impounded or their traffic stop extended.

    In short, the court finds itself compelled by law enforcement to craft a ruling to LEO's liking.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 30 Sep 2015 @ 4:46am

    Citizens are perfectly capable of weighing these factors and making these decisions themselves. That's exactly what consent is.
    This is precisely what happened. The court weighed all future traffic stops and unilaterally decided that everyone wanted to give their consent, even the cases where said "probable cause" is B.S. and wouldn't result in a warrant. The only convenience provided is not having to decide if you want your rights, because you're preemptively denied them.

    Can I assume this ruling will get escalated to a higher court where they've got a clue why there are "rules for government" at all?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 6:44am

      Re:

      Can I assume this ruling will get escalated to a higher court where they've got a clue why there are "rules for government" at all?


      Unfortunately no, since the federal rule is the same way, and this was the state's supreme court.

      New Jersey could pass a law, I guess, but what are the odds of that?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 4:48am

    What I read they say: The Police Officer get's a search warrant anyway so there is no point in wasting everyones time. Do they not admit that a warrant is a joke in the first place and serves no real purpose like looking at the facts and see if a search is justified.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 30 Sep 2015 @ 5:47am

    Coming soon from NJ

    Is this far away? (My changes in bold)
    The current approach to criminal prosecutions premised on evidentiary requirements -- “finding evidence of a crime” -- places significant burdens on law enforcement. On the other side of the ledger, we do not perceive any real benefit to our citizenry by the evidence of an actual crime requirement in such cases -- no discernible advancement of their liberty or privacy interests.


    After all, citizens would just be inconvenienced by a lengthy trial, guilty or not, surely they would prefer to avoid that and just be quickly whisked off to a nice corporate prison.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 6:02am

    let's face it, any way that can be used to ramp up what the security forces can do without being 'held up' by the law, which at the same time can remove not just citizens rights but part of the Constitution as well, will be implemented. the Constitution itself is being eroded steadily in favour of not just the security forces but in favor of businesses as well! all part of the aim to have the Planet run as a giant business with the most powerful at the helm and next to no rights for the ordinary person! and the courts are all doing whatever they can to help achieve this!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 30 Sep 2015 @ 6:32am

      Re:

      The Constitution is not "eroded" in favor of businesses but bypassed. That's the purpose of Investor/State tribunals. For example, Harris Corporation should be able to sue the U.S. for any restrictions of law enforcement to eavesdropping since that impedes the marketing possibilities of Stingray devices in the U.S. when compared to, say, North Korea.

      Now of course this is currently a bit hypothetical since FBI and NSA and DEA and DHS and DoJ and whoever else does not give a rat's ass about the Constitution anyway and so it currently would be hard for Harris Corp to prove any actual damage resulting from the U.S. Constitution as compared to North Korean standards.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 6:43am

    Can this be appealed , or is this the last and final say?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 10:30am

      Re:

      Yes it can be appealed in a federal court and additionally by the Supreme Court itself if it makes it that far.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    wraparound, 30 Sep 2015 @ 6:50am

    Only in the minds of East Coast Establishment hyper-creative Ivy League Judges could they somehow justify the blatant disregard of the 4th Amendment. I mean COME ON MAN! It reminds me of Citizens United when the SCOTUS exercised mental gymnastics in making bribery legal.

    WHERE's THE COMMON SENSE!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 7:29am

    And they wonder why the people don't trust them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 9:01am

    When a police officer has probable cause to search a car, is a motorist better off being detained on the side of the road for an hour (with all the accompanying dangers) or having his car towed and impounded at headquarters while the police secure a warrant? Is not the seizure of the car and the motorist’s detention “more intrusive than the actual search itself”?

    Actually, I thought the fourth amendment required a warrant (supported by probable cause) for search AND seizure. Oh wait, it does...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Sep 2015 @ 10:50am

    Deep Packet Inspection comes to NJ roads

    Get ready for NJ's warrantless body cavity searches.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Zonker, 30 Sep 2015 @ 11:21am

    The current approach to roadside searches premised on probable cause -- “get a warrant” -- places significant burdens on law enforcement.
    Don't care, that isn't our problem. That is a explicit right that government cannot violate without also forfeiting the powers granted unto them under the Constitution by the will of the people. The Fourth Amendment reads clearly: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
    On the other side of the ledger, we do not perceive any real benefit to our citizenry by the warrant requirement in such cases -- no discernible advancement of their liberty or privacy interests.
    Bullshit. The benefit is precisely to preserve our liberty and privacy interests. I do not wan't any dick in a uniform to be able to search or steal my property or person without my consent or a court order. This *is* my liberty and my privacy which New Jersey would take from me. Again: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..."
    When a police officer has probable cause to search a car, is a motorist better off being detained on the side of the road for an hour (with all the accompanying dangers) or having his car towed and impounded at headquarters while the police secure a warrant?
    No, the motorist is better off being allowed to continue on their way unmolested by the government with their vehicle and other property intact unless: "...Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
    Is not the seizure of the car and the motorist’s detention “more intrusive than the actual search itself”?
    Of course it is. That is why it is expressly unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment, which again explicitly and unequivicably states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..."

    Goddamn, is the fucking New Jersey supreme court illiterate? Or just corrupt as hell? /rage

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Zonker, 30 Sep 2015 @ 12:19pm

      Re:

      I must have missed the state of New Jersey's copy of the US Constitution, as amended by the New Jersey supreme court:
      The right of government to search and seize their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable protest and denial, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall be necessary if it should be too much of a burden on law enforcement to obtain.
      Surely this is what our founding fathers intended all along.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 30 Sep 2015 @ 2:08pm

      Re:

      I guess they decided there is no such thing as an unreasonable search of a car.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Devo (profile), 7 Nov 2015 @ 4:31pm

      Re:

      Very well written and expressed. THANK YOU

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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