When you get pulled over make sure you have your license, insurance, and registration in hand in order to avoid the necessity of further unwarranted intrusion by the police into your passenger compartment of your vehicle.
This court recognized an exception to the warrantless search by police of a vehicle to uncover proof of ownership. This “driving documents “exception applies if the vehicle operator is unable to produce proof of registration at the time of eight motor vehicle stop. The court, relying upon a New Jersey Supreme Court case in 2015, which relied upon 1967 New Jersey Supreme Court case, explain that the traffic violation may justify a search for things related to that stop in if the driver is “unable to produce proof of registration The officer may search the car for evidence of ownership”.
State v. Keaton 222 NJ 438, 448 (2015). However, the search must be reasonable and scope and Taylor to the degree of the violation. “A search of the registration would be permissible if confined to the glove compartment or other area where registration might normally be kept in a vehicle”.
However, prior to conducting the “limited search ” The police are required to provide the defendant with the opportunity to present his credentials before they enter the vehicle. If the defendant is unable or unwilling to produce his registration insurance information, only then maybe officer conduct a search for those credentials. Keaton, 222 NJ at 442–443.
In this Case the Appellate Division found the search unreasonable because of the following factors surrounding the officer’s conduct:
- The officer knew the vehicle was not stolen,
- there was no question of ownership,
- the officer knew the vehicle was rented,
- the officer verified the drivers license information,
- the officer testified the insurance and registration were not required for the issuance of the traffic summons,
- the driver was not given the opportunity to go get the documents out of the vehicle,
- The driver was initially detained in this case by the police with their weapons drawn.
The court next turned to determine if the search of the vehicle merely for proof of drivers license and insurance information was unreasonable “absence probable cause to believe that further offenses have been committed”. In other words, once the police verified the drivers license your information was acceptable, where there are other criminal offenses that required or justify the search of the vehicle for any reason. In state v. Lark. The court held that “defendant identity was unnecessary to prove a motor vehicle violation, and therefore subsequent search of the vehicle was not justified.
Further, if a driver failed to produce his license and the investigating officer is merely trying to determine driver identity, no search of the passenger compartment can be justified without any suspicion of further criminal conduct. This court determined that Lark is no longer good law based on the decision of Keaton and Pena-Flores.
Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.