New Jersey motorists are protected by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable police searches and seizures. This is one of the most vital rights against government intrusion recognized in the Bill of Rights, and courts and law enforcement have honored it for centuries.
This means that when a police officer pulls you over on the turnpike or any surface street, they cannot search your vehicle for drugs or other contraband without getting a warrant first. However, there are two major exceptions you need to know about: consent and exigent circumstances.
The driver of a vehicle can choose to waive their right to privacy. Police officers are trained to try to convince or intimidate members of the public into agreeing to a warrantless search. Usually, you have the right to refuse a search until the police produce a warrant.
The other major exception is when the officer can claim that exigent or emergency circumstances did not give them time to apply for a search warrant. This usually means either the officer believed that evidence of a crime would disappear or be destroyed in the time it takes to get a warrant, or that their safety or the safety of others is at risk. For example, the officer could claim they reasonably believed you had a weapon in your car.
In the moment, you might have little power to protect your rights except to say you do not consent to a search. Most of the time, a Fourth Amendment violation is a matter for court. If you believe the police illegally searched your car or other property, discuss it with your defense attorney. They will fight to hold the police accountable for any misconduct and potentially get evidence seized during the search thrown out of court.