Many New Jersey residents know that police need a warrant to search private property. But we have all heard of people getting frisked and having their cars searched during a traffic stop, so what gives?
Well, the laws of criminal procedure are very complicated. They are based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the rights that were afforded to us in the Constitution. One of these rights includes a protection from unreasonable searches and seizure.
Currently, the Supreme Court is considering how this protection applies to smartphone searches during arrests, which we discussed in a previous post. However, this post will focus on when police have authority to search a vehicle.
Typically, in order to search private property, including vehicles, police need a warrant. That means they must go to a judge and show that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and evidence relating to that crime is likely to be found at the specific location where the search will take place.
But there are several exceptions to the warrant rule. The four most common exceptions include 1) an emergency situation exists, 2) when the property owner has supplied consent, 3) a search for weapons on a person’s body or immediate surroundings during an arrest, or 4) when evidence is in plain view.
The U.S. Supreme Court also recently held that police officers can search the glove compartment on a car during an arrest without a warrant only if: a) The suspected is within reaching distance of the glove compartment at the time, or b) it is reasonable to believe that there is evidence related to the crime the suspected allegedly committed in the compartment.
Finally, police officers have authority to search vehicles that have been towed and impounded without a warrant. It doesn’t matter why the car was towed and impounded; however, police cannot tow and impound a car for the sole purpose of searching it.
Source: Findlaw.com, “Illegal Search and Seizure FAQs,” May 8, 2014