Can Police Officers Conduct a Search Without a Warrant in New Jersey?
The U.S. Constitution protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures. Police officers generally need to get a warrant from a judge to conduct a search. However, there are some limited exceptions. In this article, our New Jersey criminal defense attorney provides an overview of the key things to know about your search warrants, the legal exceptions, and your remedies if your Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
Know Your Rights Under the Fourth Amendment
The protection against illegal searches derives primarily from the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Your constitutional right against unreasonable searches should not be violated by police. To obtain a search warrant, federal, state, or local law enforcement officers must go before a judge and present “probable cause” of criminal activity.
Exceptions Exist: A Warrant May Not Be Required in these Four Situations
Although police officers in New Jersey generally need a warrant to conduct a search, there are some exceptions. A law enforcement officer(s) may be within their rights to conduct a search of your person, vehicle, or residence in any of the following four circumstances:
- Consent: Police can ask you to consent to a search. If you provide your consent, then a warrant is no longer required by the law. While police officers may not tell you this on their own, you are not required to consent to a warrantless search.
- Plain View Doctrine: When evidence of a crime is in plain view of the officer, a search warrant is not required. For example, an officer may pull over a driver for running a red light. If they see an empty beer can in the passenger’s seat, they can likely follow up without a warrant.
- Incident to Arrest: When someone is lawfully arrested in New Jersey, the police can generally conduct a search of their person and immediate surroundings for weapons. Imagine that a person is arrested for trespassing in Camden County. Police do not need a warrant to go through their pockets. If drugs are discovered, they could face an additional drug possession charge.
- Investigatory Stop: You might hear an investigatory stop referred to as ‘stop-and-frisk.’ The New York City Police Department (NYPD) stop-and-frisk program was actually ruled unconstitutional by a New York judge. However, investigatory stops are sometimes permissible in New Jersey. However, they are only allowed in limited circumstances. If you were arrested for drug possession, firearm possession, or any other crime after an investigatory stop, you should consult a New Jersey defense lawyer immediately.
What happens if you were the victim of an illegal search? The answer depends on many different factors. Your primary remedy is a legal filing called a motion to suppress evidence. In effect, your New Jersey criminal defense lawyer can take action to get any evidence that comes out of an illegal search excluded from your case. This could lead to charges being reduced or even dropped.
Contact Our New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney Today
At the Law Office of Matthew V. Portella, LLC, we proudly fight for the rights of our clients. If you were charged with a crime and you believe that you were subject to an illegal search, we can help. Contact us today to arrange a strictly confidential, no-obligation initial consultation. From our offices in Pleasantville and Haddonfield, we serve communities throughout the region.