What to do in the event of a New Jersey Motor Vehicle Stop

The most frequent encounter that citizens in this state have with police stem from a New Jersey motor vehicle stop.

The law is clear; police may not randomly stop drivers without "reasonable suspicion" that a violation was committed.

In other words, the officer's belief that a violation was committed must be "reasonable."

Any violation such as erratic driving, equipment violation, an accident, speeding, speaking on a cellular phone or not wearing a seat belt while driving gives rise to "reasonable suspicion" permitting the police to effectuate a stop.

Also, a police officer's visual inspection of a license plate or random computer check of the vehicle registration is constitutional because there is no expectation of privacy in a car's computer records or license plate.

Hence, if the result of such check reveals that the driver's license or registration is revoked, the police officer is empowered to effectuate a New Jersey motor vehicle stop.

How should you behave during a New Jersey motor vehicle stop?

Be respectful even if you believe that the stop is unjustified because there is always a chance that the officer will let you go with just a warning.

At this point you are either confused about why you are being stopped or you know exactly why you are being stopped.

Either way, your first course of action is to roll down the window and locate your license, insurance and registration to give to the officer when he or she approaches your vehicle.

If you are confused or do not know why you are being stopped ask the officer politely for the reason.

Any attempt to convince an officer that you are not guilty of what he or she is accusing you of doing will likely backfire.

In fact, engaging in dialogue with an officer supplies him or her with evidence they can later use against you in court because that is precisely what they are trained to do.

Do not apologize to the officer because it may be construed as an admission of guilt later on by a Judge in Court.

Also, do not beg for leniency because that could also be construed as an admission of guilt later on in court.

For now, be responsive, respectful and polite but that does not mean that you must volunteer information.

Always bear in mind that the place and time to argue or contest the stop or a ticket is in court.

The added bonus of knowing that is that the officer may make a notation that the subject cooperated during the course of the stop.

This is important because it may very well help during the appearance in court.

Generally, officers ask prosecutors to oppose giving plea deals to individuals who they feel gave them a difficult time during the course of a motor vehicle stop.

Under certain circumstances, however, during the police encounter the officer might develop "probable cause" that a serious offense which would warrant an arrest is being committed.

An example of such an offense is drunk driving or possession of a controlled dangerous substance - for example, marijuana.

Probable cause, defined as "well grounded suspicion" - as opposed to reasonable suspicion which only empowers an officer to effectuate a stop but not arrest anyone - empowers an officer to ask the driver and passenger(s) to exit the vehicle.

Probable Cause further empowers an officer to request that a field sobriety test, for example, be performed.

If a driver failed a field sobriety test it would give further rise to probable cause to arrest the individual for drunk driving.

Are motor vehicle searches subsequent to a New Jersey motor vehicle stop constitutional?

In other words, don't people have a constitutional right to privacy in their motor vehicle.

As previously noted police officer's visual inspection of a license plate or random computer check of the vehicle registration is constitutional because there is no expectation of privacy in a car's computer records or license plate.

However, the constitutionality of a motor vehicle search subsequent to a motor vehicle stop is a much more complicated matter.

The rule of thumb is that in order to be constitutionally valid a search by the police must be reasonable.

Any search pursuant to a New Jersey motor vehicle stop without a warrant is unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional unless the following exceptions exist that would make the search reasonable even without a warrant and hence constitutional and valid:

a. Plain View - if the contraband is in plain view of the officer;

b. Plain Smell - if the smell of contraband emanates from the vehicle;

c. Inventory/Community Care taking - When the police need to conduct an inventory of a car's contents a search warrant is unnecessary.

d. Consent - If a police officer does not have probable cause he can still request to search and if consent is provided then a warrant becomes unnecessary.

However, consent must always be voluntary, free from threats, duress and coercion.

e. Exigent Circumstances - Exigent circumstances are generally found where there are events which are spontaneous and unforeseeable and pose a potential threat to the officers.

So, when the police have no advanced knowledge of the events which unfold, and there is need for prompt action along with an initial showing of probable cause, the entire automobile may be searched

After the New Jersey motor vehicle stop, if you disagree or wish to plead not guilty to a ticket, summons, complaint or arrest or just wish to work out a guilty plea with the prosecutor to a lesser offense then call the court to tell them you wish to plead not guilty and ask for a court date.

You are entitled to a notice from the court and the court will mail you a notice pursuant to proper procedure.

When you show up in court plead Not Guilty once again and you will automatically be afforded the opportunity to speak with the prosecutor about your New Jersey motor vehicle stop.

The prosecutor will generally offer a plea deal, unless the officer is opposed to it or the prosecutor is prohibited from doing so by law, such as in the case of a drunk driving offense.

If you have any questions for a NJ criminal defense lawyer about a New Jersey Motor Vehicle Stop, please do not hesitate to contact us.