Can the police search my car before they get a warrant?

Can the police pull me over for no reason and get a search warrant to search my car, belongings bag, and other items after the fact?

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

The New Jersey Supreme Court Ruled:

“Search warrants are prospective in nature — they authorize the taking of action. A later-obtained search warrant does not retroactively validate preceding warrantless conduct that is challenged through a suppression motion focused on the legitimacy of the seizure that gave rise to a later search. The State must bear the burden of proving the legitimacy of the seizure that led to a later warrant and search — in this case the stop. Because the State did not carry its burden as to the stop, we affirm the suppression of the evidence seized in the course of the subsequent search as fruit of the poisonous tree.

The key to this decision is the New Jersey Supreme Court agreement and affirmation that a bad search is not the basis for a valid warrant any subsequent search. In this case a vehicle was pulled over when the police arrived. There was no illegal activity observed by the police, no motor vehicle violation, no motor vehicle infraction.”

The police allegedly walked up to the vehicle “to pieces of marijuana on the floor of the vehicle “smelled marijuana and then in impounding  the vehicle and only been seeking a warrant. At that time of the suppression hearing the Ocean County prosecutors office did not introduce the testimony of any police officers. The prosecutors office took the position that because this was a “warrant“ search the burden is on the defendant to prove that the search war was in valid.

The issues surrounding the use of the warrant as the factual basis for the motor vehicle stop was rejected by the court when it stated: “The statements in the warrant affidavit were not enough to carry that evidentiary burden. As envisioned in Green, defendants were entitled to cross-examine the officers who made those statements to test, among other things, the officers’ vision and perspective in observing the perceived traffic violation, as well as whether the MVR conflicts with the officers’ account. The warrant affidavit is not a substitute for the officers’ testimony and therefore did not suffice to justify the stop.

On a motion to suppress evidence for which a warrant was obtained, the trial court’s review is limited to “the information contained within the four corners of the supporting affidavit, as supplemented by sworn testimony before the issuing judge that is recorded contemporaneously.”  Wilson, 178 N.J. at 14 (quoting Schneider v. Simonini, 163 N.J. 336, 363 (2000)). The four-corners rule “assures that the magistrate was in a position to adequately perform the constitutional function of providing independent judicial review prior to executive intrusions on individual privacy.”  Ibid. (emphasis added)(quoting Kevin G. Byrnes, New Jersey Arrest, Search and Seizure § 5:2-5, at 74 (2003)).  The State seeks to amend the four-corners rule to include a finding that when a warrant is present, it retroactively validates prior warrantless conduct.  It does not.  The State oversimplifies and undermines basic burdens of proof in the warrant-no warrant dichotomy.  Here, the State asserts that when a warrant application recites a factual basis that includes actions taken without a warrant, the judge’s issuance of the search warrant not only permits the search that follows but also cleanses all previous warrantless activities.  By virtue of that purported cleansing, the State contends, defendants must carry the burden of proof if they seek to challenge any of the pre-warrant seizure conduct referenced in the affidavit in support of the warrant application just as they would carry the evidentiary burden in challenging the search authorized by the warrant.”

The trial court rejected this approach and required the state to produce evidence to support the exception under the fourth amendment of the United States Constitution in supportfor the warrantless search of the vehicle. The court ruled: “Motor vehicle stops are seizures for Fourth Amendment purposes. See State v. Sloane, 193 N.J. 423, 430 (2008). An officer may stop a motor vehicle only upon “articulable and reasonable suspicion” that a criminal or motor vehicle violation has occurred. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 663 (1979); State v. Scriven, 226 N.J. 20, 33-34 (2016) (“Under both the Fourth Amendment [of the United States Constitution] and Article I, Paragraph 7 [of the New Jersey Constitution], ordinarily, a police officer must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the driver of a vehicle, or its occupants, is committing a motor-vehicle violation or a criminal or disorderly persons offense to justify a stop.”); State v. Locurto, 157 N.J. 463, 470 (1999). The State bears the burden of proving that an investigatory stop is valid. State v. Maryland, 167 N.J. 471, 489 (2001).”……. See State v. Carty, 170 N.J. 632, 639-40 (2002) (“A lawful stop of an automobile must be based on reasonable and articulable suspicion that an offense, including a minor traffic offense, has been or is being committed.”). The trial court properly directed that an evidentiary hearing be held in order for the State to satisfy its burden of proving that reasonable and articulable suspicion supported the warrantless seizure of defendants’ moving vehicle. ……At the hearing, the State chose not to present any witnesses to justify the investigatory stop that preceded the application for a search warrant. Instead, it held fast to the novel view that the judge who granted the warrant had blessed the pre-warrant conduct. But because the warrantless conduct of seizing defendants’ car was “presumptively unreasonable and therefore invalid,” State v. Elders, 192 N.J. 224, 246 (2007), the burden remained on the State to establish “by a preponderance of the evidence that there was no constitutional violation,” State v. Wilson, 178 N.J. 7, 13 (2003). The State had to prove the reasonable and articulable suspicion to justify the initial stop.”

When the state failed to produce any witnesses at the time of the motion to suppress the trial court suppress the evidence of the warrantless search. The Ocean County prosecutors office appealed which was denied again and this Supreme Court decision was issued.

The key aspect of this case is The police have to be lawfully in the appropriate location based on a observation of criminal activity order a reasonable and articulable suspicion in order to conduct a motor vehicle stop and search. If they do not any subsequent search and/or search warrant will not be held valid and any illegal evidence shall be suppressed. You cannot use a bad search to support the fact of a search warrant.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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