Illegal Search Bergen County Defense Attorney

Automobile exception to the Warrant Requirement:

Often times the police will pull over a motor vehicle for a minor traffic violation in hopes of finding incriminating evidence, such as contraband in the suspect’s vehicle. They will try to use a minor traffic violation to spawn that into gaining access to the inside of the vehicle, which may or may not contain some form of contraband.  However, there are certain procedural requirements which the police must follow before they will be allowed to search a particular motor vehicle without a warrant or the operators valid consent.  The New Jersey legislature grants police officers the power to search a motor vehicle, without a warrant, if two requirements are met (provided the initial stop was valid).  First, the state must make a showing of probable cause and then they must produce what has been phrased as an exigent circumstance, which existed before the warrantless search of a motor vehicle. If both of these requirements have not been met, the evidence seized must be suppressed following a suppression hearing. Therefore, the automobile exception applies only in cases in which probable cause and exigent circumstances are evident, making it impractical for the police to obtain a warrant.

As previous stated, in New Jersey, the court has concluded that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement is grounded in a finding of probable cause, and exigent circumstances. This exception was primarily based on the inherent mobility of vehicles and a lessened expectation of privacy in motor vehicles. In its simplest form, its trying to limit the hardship that the police would encounter if every time they were required to obtain a warrant before searching a car.  The key determination involved in a warrantless search of a motor vehicle is the compelling nature of the exigent circumstances.

If defense counsel concludes that the warrantless search of the automobile was not based on either probable cause or a valid exigent circumstance, then they would need to file what is called a suppression motion. At this hearing, defense counsel is seeking to have the evidence obtained from the warrantless search be found inadmissible. At the suppression hearing the state is required to prove both prongs of the two prong test discussed above. First, the state must show that probable cause existed, thus making a showing that the officer conducting the search possessed a “well-grounded suspicion” that the motor vehicle contained either contraband or evidence of crime. Meaning there was a logical basis for the officer to conclude there was either contraband or evidence of a crime contained within the motor vehicle in question. Then the state, must show a compelling circumstance existed which made it impractical to secure a valid search warrant. The New Jersey Supreme Court defined an exigent circumstance as something that is “unforeseen and spontaneous” giving rise to probable cause. The theory behind an exigent circumstance, is that if the evidence is not preserved immediately, the evidence might be lost or destroyed. There are an unlimited number of quickly unfolding fact patterns that may generate exigent circumstances which demands instant police action. However, all reasons given by police do not fall under the category of exigent. Therefore, it is imperative for defense counsel  to examine the facts of the case and look for elements of rapidly unfolding, unpredictable events which may cause the loss or destruction of evidence and make it impractical for the police to obtain a search warrant. This does not have to be based on one event. It could be a combination of many events, when taken together, may as a matter of law, rise to the level of an exigent circumstances.

Bergen County Criminal Defense Attorneys

The automobile exception to the warrant requirement is a very complex issue, which is fact driven. Therefore, it is imperative for you to seek the assistance an experienced attorney Bergen County Criminal Defense Attorney.  If you or someone you know has been arrested and is questioning whether his/her rights were violated you should immediately contact any one of our Bergen County Offices for a free initial consultation at 1-800-682-4037.