Published by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
Today, after a three year trial and appellate court battle, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled the police cannot allege a driver improperly used their high-beams if there are no approaching vehicles in the oncoming lanes of traffic in order to effectuate a motor vehicle stop and search. The court also affirmed the trial court’s decision that perpendicular street or on foot police officers do not count as a vehicle under NJ motor vehicle code section 39:3–60.
The importance of this case deals with the Supreme Court’s rejection of the state’s position that, regardless of the statute, the police officer had an objectively good faith position to approach this vehicle and ask to search the defendant’s auto. The court rejected this position because the officer could not have an objectively reasonable “mistake of law” about the applicability of the high beam statute! Essentially, the court rejected the states position that this officer you’re believed he could conduct a motor vehicle stop with no basis in the law.
The court also rejected the state’s position that the officer had a justifiable basis to stop today going to the “community care taking function” exception to the warrant requirement. The court rejected the state’s position that the officer could not have any objective belief that s/he need to provide “emergency services” or check the general welfare of the driver when there is no facts reflecting the need for same.
This is the second case this summer where the court has rejected law enforcement’s efforts to effectuate car stops and expansive searched on overly stretched reading of the traffic code. With an ever expansive reading of the motor vehicle code and “good faith exception searches” this New Jersey Supreme Court is pushing the police back. They cannot use the motor vehicle code as a pretension for unreasonable search and seizures in violation of New Jersey Constitution and the federal Constitution. Between the turn signal case we blogged last week and now this case, The court is reminding the state that it cannot base their “mistake of law” arguments on facts and circumstances that do not exist. More importantly, if the police do not have the proper factual foundation to conduct a motor vehicle stop, the Court will not be afraid to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the unconstitutional search and seizure.
Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.