Illegal Search of a Car

In a unanimous decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court the court held that law enforcement cannot enter a disabled vehicle to gather proof of registration and insurance, without asking the driver for the information or asking permission.

In the case, State v. Keaton, a state trooper was on I-295 when he was called to an accident. The driver had been taken from the car and Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) were treating him. In order to complete his report the trooper entered the car to get the driver’s license and insurance. The trooper did not ask the driver for the documents before going to get them himself. After entering the car the trooper found drugs and weapons.

The Supreme Court held that when law enforcement entered the vehicle without asking the defendant that they did an illegal search of the vehicle. This search violated the driver’s 4th amendment rights against “unreasonable search and seizure”. The court held that law enforcement must provide a defendant with the chance to give law enforcement the documents before law enforcement can go get them. If after giving a defendant the chance, the defendant is unable or unwilling to give the registration or insurance information, only then may an officer get those documents.

The court’s fix for an illegal search is that the items found during the search cannot be used against you at trial. This does not mean the charges are dismissed.

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