What is a Valid Motor Vehicle Stop?
Many of the issues discussed in this practice center involve searches following a motor vehicle stop. However, a prerequisite to any car search is a valid stop and this section provides information as to what and is not a proper traffic stop. You should also know that our attorneys have decades of experience in NJ Search & Seizure Law and would happy to answer more detailed questions which you may possess. In fact, the lawyers on our defense team include multiple former prosecutors and possess over 100 years of collective experience. If you think that police lacked a proper basis to stop you and/or conduct a Search Without a Warrant, a lawyer is ready to provide you with the guidance necessary in this difficult time. Give us a call anytime 24/7 to discuss a case pending in Union County, Essex County, Ocean County, Monmouth County, Hudson County, Middlesex County, Passaic County or Morris County.
NJ Law: Proper Traffic Stop
Since a stop and detention of a driver or occupant of an automobile is a “seizure”, the conduct of police must be consistent with the 4th Amendment of the Constitution (i.e. must be a reasonable search and seizure). The standard for properly stopping a car was originally set forth in the United States Supreme Court decision in Delaware v. Prouse. Police must possess an articulable and reasonable suspicion that a violation of the traffic laws has occurred. There are many valid bases for a traffic stop including, but no limited to, an expired inspection sticker, driver being unlicensed, improper registration, possession of an open alcohol container, suspended license, or even speeding. An officer also has authority under N.J.S.A. 39:5-25 to effectuate an arrest if he or she observes a violation of either Chapter 3 or 4 of Title 39. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court further refined this area of law in State v. Pierce, holding that NJ police do not have the ability to arrest or, for that matter, conduct a Search Incident to Arrest where the motor vehicle offense is relatively minor.
Since anonymous calls or tips to police do not have the inherent reliability of personal observations, there must be corroboration by law enforcement before a stop may be made. In other words, when an officer receives a call from a good Samaritan or the like, there must be some independent corroboration of a violation prior to any stop. There is an exception to this requirement, however, in accordance with State v. Golotta where the tip involves a 9-1-1 call to report an intoxicated or erratic driver.
Another rationale for a stop other than observation of a traffic violation is where police undertake action in the context of “community caretaking”. Under this doctrine, police may stop a car without proper suspicion of a traffic infraction if it can be shown that there was a reasonable belief that help may have been required.
If you were stopped in NJ, including somewhere in Monmouth County, Ocean County, Union County, Middlesex County, Essex County, Passaic County, Hudson County, Morris County, or Bergen County, our lawyers are ready to help you. An attorney can be reached immediately for an initial consultation free of charge at 1-877-450-8301.