NJ Supreme Court Changes the Law on Automobile Searches Blog
On September 24, 2015, the NJ Supreme Court changed the legal standard that police officers must follow for searching an automobile after a traffic stop. Since 2009 the law said that police officers must have both probable cause and exigent circumstances before they could conduct a car search without obtaining a search warrant. The Supreme Court just changed the law that will make it easier for police to conduct automobile searches without obtaining a warrant.
The NJ Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Witt has eliminated the need for exigent or emergent circumstances and allows for a warrantless car search as long as the police have probable cause to believe there is contraband or evidence of a crime inside the car.
This new decision will make it more difficult for criminal defense attorneys to challenge the lawfulness of evidence that the police seize as a result of warrantless car searches. For example, if a police officer pulls a car over for speeding, approaches the driver and smells an odor of marijuana, the officer may immediately order the occupants out of the car and conduct a search for contraband without having a warrant. As a result of this new case, a police officer’s right to search a car without a warrant simply depends on probable cause. The definition of probable cause means a reasonable suspicion of contraband or evidence of a crime inside the car.