NJ Supreme Court Upholds Police Search for Vehicle Registration

On March 14, 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided State v. Ornette M. Terry (A-23-16) (077942). In this case, the defendant was pulled over for initially failing to stop for a stop sign. The defendant did not provide the vehicle’s registration or insurance card to the police.

The officer therefore entered the vehicle to look in the glove box for the documents. While looking for the documents, the officer noticed a handgun on the floorboard of the vehicle. The defendant was charged with second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b) and fourth-degree possession of hollow point bullets under N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(f).

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that an officer may conduct a limited search for a vehicle’s registration in areas where it is likely to be kept in a vehicle when the driver is unwilling or unable to show proof of ownership of the vehicle.

However, the Court also noted that if the officer can determine that the vehicle is not stolen by other means, such as a database search, then a warrantless search of the vehicle is not justified.

Police searches of automobiles can be fact specific and the law regarding searches and seizures is complex. If you have been charged with a crime it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible about your rights.

Call Jason T. Komninos, Esq. at (201) 343-4622 to schedule a consultation.