NJ Supreme Court Upholds Plain View Drug Bust

How do I challenge an illegal search and seizure in New Jersey?

A recent ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court could lead to more warrantless search and seizures.  The ruling does away with one requirement to the state’s plain view doctrine, which sets out under what circumstances police can seize evidence without a warrant if it is in plain sight.  While the ruling is said to bring state law into line with federal law, it could mean changes for defendants in New Jersey.  

Facts of the Case

Xiomara Gonzales was pulled over by police officers while driving toward the Garden State Parkway in 2009.  Police stopped her as part of a surveillance effort on an alleged drug distribution operation.  Police had been following Gonzales and several codefendants based on information obtained from wiretaps as part of a drug investigation.  When they saw Gonzales go through a toll without paying, they grasped the opportunity to conduct a traffic stop.

Based on earlier surveillance, police knew Gonzales was carrying blue bags with heroin in her vehicle.  Police officers on the scene testified that they intended to get a warrant or obtain her consent to search, but officers spotted bricks of heroin spilling out of the bags in the backseat.  They seized the drugs and charged Gonzales with several drug offenses.

Motion to Suppress Evidence

Gonzales’ attorneys filed a motion to suppress evidence.  A motion to suppress evidence can be used to challenge questionable searches and seizures.  Your New Jersey drug crime attorney will explore the circumstances surrounding the seizure of evidence in your case to uncover whether you have the right to challenge the search or seizure.  If successful, any evidence seized as a result of the illegal search will not be allowed to be used against you.  Accordingly, a successful motion to suppress evidence could be the end of your case.

In Gonzales’ case, the issue of whether the drugs were illegally seized went all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  The high court upheld the search and overturned prior case law.  By unanimous decision, the court held that the “inadvertence requirement” from the state’s plain view doctrine was no longer necessary. The inadvertence requirement held that police must come across evidence by chance in order for the plain view doctrine to apply.  Now, it is enough for officers to state that they saw the drugs or other contraband in plain sight, regardless of how they came into view of the evidence.