Why a Search Without a Warrant Could Provide Your Best Defense

Do Police Need a Warrant to Conduct a Search in New Jersey?

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Warrantless search questions NJ

Many people are under the mistaken impression that the police can only conduct a search if there is a warrant in effect. This is not true and there are many circumstances under which the police can conduct a search without a warrant. However, there are ways that police often violate individuals’ rights when it comes to searching them or their property. When this leads to criminal charges, these violations can lay the groundwork your best defense. We have answered some of the more common questions concerning warrantless searches in New Jersey below. Contact our distinguished Bergen County criminal defense lawyers to discuss the best defenses for your specific charges in Hackensack, Fort Lee, Teaneck, Lodi, Mahwah, Palisades Interstate Park, and other New Jersey towns where we regularly obtain successful outcomes for clients. We have been defending people who find themselves exactly where you are now for many years. Call (201)-330-4979 for a free consultation today. Our team includes former municipal and county prosecutors who round out the type of solid defense approach you need.

Can police search my car without a warrant in NJ?

The police are not required to obtain a warrant to search your car in New Jersey, provided the officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has been, or is being committed, or that your car contains evidence of crime. He or she cannot search your car without probable cause. Probable cause is a well-grounded reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, is in the process of being committed, or evidence connected to a crime exists in a specific location. The standard for police is relatively low, meaning the standard of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt as required in a trial, but significantly less. Officers will typically rely upon their prior training and experience coupled with the facts and circumstances of the case in establishing probable cause.

For example, it is common for police to pull people over for an alleged violation of the motor vehicle code. The officer will routinely approach the passenger side of the vehicle and ask questions of the driver and occupants. Often, an officer will say that he “smelled the odor of burnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle” to meet the necessary standard for a search. After he says this, he then orders the occupants out of the car and searches the vehicle for contraband or evidence of a crime. Smelling marijuana is “probable cause” to search the car without a warrant. People frequently face drug charges for possession of marijuana under 50 grams after a situation like this occurs.

Can officers search without a warrant if I consent in New Jersey?

Often, a police officer may be suspicious and will want to search you, your belongings, or your car or home. He will ask you to consent to the search. Once you provide your consent, the officer can conduct a search without a warrant. You do not have to consent to the search and if you refuse, the officer can only search upon a finding of probable cause or after obtaining a warrant.

If I am being arrested, can police conduct a search without a warrant in NJ?

The police can search you without a warrant if you are under arrest. In the example above, the police said that they smelled marijuana and would have removed everyone from the vehicle. Typically, they would place everyone under arrest and conduct a search incident to arrest. The search is generally limited to looking for weapons or contraband.

Are there other valid reasons for a warrantless search in New Jersey?

The police can search a person or location when they are investigating under the community care-taking doctrine. For example, if the police receive a 911 call in which a person says that they hear their neighbor screaming and there is banging and arguing, the police will respond to ensure the safety of the occupants. This may require the police to go into the apartment and check on the welfare of the persons involved. In doing so, if they observe signs of injury on anyone in the residence, notice evidence of a struggle, or can see from the surroundings that a potential act of violence may have occurred, they may search the home for any weapons and conduct a full investigation into domestic violence.

In addition, police can conduct a warrantless search based on plain view. Often, there may be contraband in plain view when they arrive on the scene, or perhaps they can see it in your car during a traffic stop. If evidence of a crime such as drugs or weapons are visibly observable in plain view, they may continue to search the area. As mentioned previously, the police do not need a warrant to search if there is probable cause to believe that an offense has been committed. If contraband is in plain view, the police may search the area for further contraband or evidence of a crime. For example, if officers are inside of a house or apartment and there is cocaine on the table, they can arrest one or more people and seize the cocaine because the drugs were in “plain view.” Similarly, if there is marijuana or drug paraphernalia in plain view in the car’s center console, this meets to criteria for a warrantless search.

Motions to Suppress Evidence from a Search in NJ

Just as police officers know their way around the warrant requirements, experienced criminal defense attorneys know what to look for in cases involving searches without a warrant. Your lawyer can file a motion to suppress the physical evidence seized from the warrantless search. The State would put the officer on the stand to testify as to why he believes he was legally permitted to conduct the search. Your attorney would cross-examine the officer and point out inconsistencies or violations of your rights that occurred to undermine the State’s case. There may also be evidence in the police report or other discovery involved in your case that demonstrates a violation of rights in some manner. After your attorney argues a motion to suppress in court, the judge then makes the decision as to whether the police conducted a lawful search. If it was an illegal search, the judge can suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the search. This means that the evidence would no longer be able to be used against you. Often, a successful motion to suppress can be exactly what you need to get your criminal charges dismissed.

Call Fort Lee Defense Attorneys to Discuss the Search in Your Criminal Case Today

If you or someone you know has been arrested because of an unlawful search and seizure in Bergen County, contact us at (201)-330-4979 office today. We have experience fighting charges for unlawful possession of a weapon, heroin possession, prescription drugs, and domestic violence cases and will fight to state’s case against you. Depending on the situation, we may be able to have the evidence suppressed, the charges dismissed or downgraded. Call for a free consultation to learn more.


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