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Burlington County, NJ Law Blog

Saturday, June 25, 2016

When a Traffic Stop Leads to a Search, Seizure & Criminal Charges

In New Jersey, motor vehicle stops can easily escalate into something more severe.  For example, a subsequent investigation after a traffic stop could result in an arrest and criminal charges if weapons and narcotics are found.  This situation occurred in Cranford, New Jersey, for two young men in their twenties.  The charges for the accused ranged from Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance, Possession of a Weapon for Unlawful Purposes, Distribution of Marijuana, and Possession of a Weapon for Unlawful Purposes.  Bail was set at a hefty $100,000.  Yet, bail is usually only the beginning – prison, fines, and further penalties are likely to be involved. 

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO

If you have been involved in a similar situation, multiple questions should come to mind:  Did the law enforcement officer have the right to search your person or vehicle subsequent to the traffic stop?  Did the officer read you your Miranda rights before arrest?  Did the officer have a “reasonable suspicion” that a violation or criminal act was committed before making the stop?  Is the evidence that was seized by the officer without a warrant admissible in court?  A licensed attorney can advise you of your rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution with regard to the aforementioned questions.  Attorneys can help predict the government’s likelihood of prevailing in a legal case against you, determine whether you have any valid defenses, and can advise you on the appropriate steps to take next.

WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS IN NEW JERSEY

The New Jersey Constitution affords citizens the same and sometimes greater protections against unreasonable search and seizures, as compared to the United States Constitution.  Typically, officers are not allowed to search a vehicle during a traffic stop unless they have “probable cause” that you have an illegal item in your vehicle, the officer has a valid warrant, or if the driver provides consent; however, there are many exceptions that come into play.  For example, under the “plain view exception,” an officer may seize various paraphernalia that is visible to the naked eye, such as weapons, alcohol, drugs, and the like.  Emergency or “exigent circumstances” may also create an exception for what would otherwise be an impermissible search.  Police may even frisk you if they reasonably suspect that there is a weapon underneath your clothing.  Nonetheless, there is a silver lining – if an attorney determines that the evidence was illegally seized because no valid exception to the warrant requirement existed at the time, the evidence may be suppressed in your legal proceeding.  An attorney can determine whether the officer exceeded his or her authority under New Jersey law and present this to the judge presiding over your case. 


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