NJ Criminal Law – Illegal Search of Vehicle and Producing Driver's Credentials
14-2-1787 State of New Jersey v Duran C. Keaton, App. Div.
Unlawful Search and Seizure at Accident Scene
In this Unpublished appeal the court ruled that the police are required, when there is no exigency, and the driver is able to obtain his identification materials, to allow a defendant to produce his driving credentials on his/her own without the police entering the car. If the police do not make a reasonable effort to allow the defendant to do get their own license and registration than any search of the auto is illegal and evidence of a crime should be suppressed. In other words, if the police come to or are called to a motor vehicle accident were there is no initial probable cause for them to be investigate criminal activity, the police have to allow the owner/occupant of the auto the opportunity to go back to the car and get their license, registration and insurance materials for the police. If their owner/operator are not able due to medical condition the facts change, but if they are able the police must allow the owner/operator.
Requirements Before Officer Enters the Vehicle
The trial court sustained the entry and seizure based on the plain view doctrine stating the officer was allowed to be in the overturned auto looking for the drivers credentials. However, the appellate panel reverses, concluding that the trooper was not lawfully in the viewing area. It reasoned that because the police were called to an accident there was no probable cause to believe defendant’s vehicle was stolen, or that he had committed any other crime justifying intrusion into the vehicle. The State did not prove, nor did the court expressly find, that defendant was given the opportunity to produce the registration and license information and was unable or unwilling to do so. There is no evidence to support any finding of exigency. In conclusion, the gun that was found in a back pack was to to be suppressed.
Download the full case transcript here.