A traffic stop can rattle even the calmest driver, mostly because there is usually an air of confusion and urgency whenever someone is stopped by law enforcement. A variety of driving behaviors can be deemed suspicious by a passing police officer and can lead to a traffic stop, often without the driver’s knowledge of what he or she has done wrong.
Many drivers fumble with getting their paperwork in order when they are pulled over by the police. It may be a struggle to remember where you put your insurance card or where your driver’s license is in your purse or wallet.
You are trying to remain calm and keep your movements steady and controlled so you do not appear to be concealing anything, reaching for a hidden weapon, or too intoxicated or disoriented to be driving. There’s a lot of pressure in a traffic stop and any wrong moves could lead to an arrest or citation.
However, some of the pressure may be relieved with a recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that grants drivers the right to gather their information on their own and denies law enforcement the right to obtain the information through a warrantless vehicle search.
State v. Keaton
Duran Keaton was arrested in March of 2009 after he was involved in a car accident on Interstate 295. Keaton was treated by paramedics at the scene before the police arrived.
One of the officers made the decision not to interrupt the paramedics as they treated Keaton and instead went into Keaton’s glove box on his own to pull out his car registration and insurance documents. During his search, the officer saw marijuana on the dashboard and a handgun in a backpack in the car.
Based on the officer’s observations, Keaton was arrested for weapons and drug possession. A trial judge denied Keaton’s motion to suppress the evidence from his vehicle, but the Appellate Division reversed that decision. According to the appellate judges, the officer had no authority to search Keaton’s car without a warrant and without first asking Keaton to provide the paperwork on his own.
When the state appealed, the case went to the state Supreme Court. The justices used the precedent set in a case from 1980. In State v. Patino, the court ruled that police only had the authorization to search a person’s car without a warrant and obtain registration and insurance information if the driver was unable or unwilling to provide it himself.
In Keaton’s case, a search performed for “convenience or expediency” is not justifiable, the court ruled. The officer should have asked Keaton to get the credentials on his own before going into the vehicle to search.
Knowing your rights in a traffic stop can help keep you from being subjected to criminal charges and undue violations. For more information, contact a New Jersey drug crime lawyer at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, today. We represent anyone who has been charged with drug possession or use in New Jersey, and we can help you if the evidence against you was illegally obtained.