An Officer Can Access the Information on Their Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) Randomly, Without Reasonable Suspicion
Appellate Docket No.: A-1252-19
Decided August 10, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey DWI Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey ruled an officer can access the information on their mobile data terminal (MDT) randomly, without reasonable suspicion that a traffic offense is being committed.
In State v. Carrigan, On January 23, 2019, Neptune City Police Officer Christopher Devlin pulled behind a green Jeep Cherokee (the vehicle) driven by an “elderly white male with glasses” stopped at a traffic light and decided to conduct a “random inquiry on the [Jeep’s] license plate” on his mobile data terminal (MDT). After inputting the license plate number into a search query box on the Spillman software2 , Devlin entered a database, “Involvements,” which documents a motor vehicle’s interactions by police officers from municipalities using the system. Devlin did not recall the particular “Involvements” he clicked on, but in seeking information regarding the vehicle, the system revealed a photograph of a male and the male’s driving history. The history indicated that the male had been issued a citation in July 2018 for driving with a suspended license.
Based on the date and other “driving-while-suspended” citations listed in Spillman, Devlin believed the male driver still had a suspended license. Devlin determined that the male operating the vehicle was the same person depicted in the Spillman photo. Devlin then pulled over the vehicle and learned that defendant was the person referenced in Spillman. Defendant admitted that his driver’s license was suspended and that he had an open can of beer in the vehicle. Devlin issued him summonses for driving while suspended, being an unlicensed driver, and possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.
According to Devlin, the entire Spillman search took between thirty and sixty seconds. Devlin acknowledged that he did not observe any motor vehicle violations by defendant, and that he had no reason to pull over defendant’s vehicle until he saw the information in Spillman pertaining to defendant’s license suspension.
After defendant was indicted for fourth-degree operating a motor vehicle during a period of license suspension, he moved to suppress the vehicle stop, claiming a violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment and New Jersey Constitution, Article 1, paragraph 7, because Devlin used private information with no reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to initiate the vehicle stop. The trial judge denied the motion, reasoning that based on Donis and State v. Sloane, 193 N.J. 423 (2008), “defendant . . . [did] not have . . . a reasonable expectation of privacy in the information” from Spillman, and the stop of the vehicle was legal.
Following the denial of his suppression motion, defendant entered an open plea of guilty to fourth-degree operating a motor vehicle during a period of license suspension and to the motor vehicle violation of driving while suspended. As noted, defendant was sentenced to concurrent jail sentences of eighteen months and ten days, respectively, together with a six-month license suspension consecutive to any suspension that he was serving
Defendant appealed, reiterating his arguments that the MDT search was a violation of his privacy, and that the officer needed reasonable suspicion first before accessing the data. The Appellate Division disagreed, ruling that the officer does not need reasonable suspicion to access the MDT information, because the ruling in Donis and the steps taken by the legislature to protect personal information and installing a two step process for the MDT: 1) only information about registration, license status, and whether the vehicle is reported stolen is supplied 2) personal information is available. To access step two, officers need reasonable suspicion from step 1, something that happened here when the officer believed the driver was still suspended.
If you or someone you know has received a ticket for driving while suspended, driving under the influence (DUI) driving while intoxicated (DWI) speeding, careless driving, reckless driving, failure to maintain lane, failure to stop at a traffic control device, , contact the experienced attorney at Hark & Hark to ensure you are adequately defended, otherwise you could have negative impacts on your case like the defendant above.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make a traffic stop or an arrest.
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