In a new case decide earlier this month, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that a police officer did nothing wrong after sticking his head inside of an open car window while speaking to the driver, even if this allowed him to discover evidence of marijuana usage inside. In doing so, he did not violate the 4th Amendment rules regarding search and seizures. Typically, a police officer would need reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed before he can conduct a search. However, the police officer in this case only put his head in the window because he could not hear the driver over the noise of traffic.
This is important because evidence obtained in a search could lead to charges for driving under the influence of marijuana or other drugs – if a police officer observes drugs or signs of drug use in a vehicle, the officer might believe that the driver is intoxicated while driving. With the laws in New Jersey changing to make it easier to obtain legal marijuana in the future, this is an extremely important development, as the number of drivers who may be driving in possession of marijuana is expected to go up, and this could lead to police bring DUI charges against drivers more easily.
State v. Stephen Mendel
In State v. Stephen Mendel, a police officer pulled a vehicle over after observing it drive by with dark tinted windows. The police officer came up on the passenger side of the vehicle to talk with the driver. The officer asked the driver to produce his driver’s license and inquired about his driving record. During the conversation, the police officer leaned his head into the open passenger side window in order to hear better. While speaking to defendant, he smelled the odor of marijuana coming from inside the vehicle.
The defendant-driver argued that police officer’s actions should be considered a warrantless search, and the search was unreasonable, which would mean that the evidence was inadmissible and had to be thrown out of the case. The New Jersey Appellate Division decided that a driver does have a legitimate expectation of privacy on the interior of his vehicle. However, even if this is considered a search, the 4th Amendment only protects from unreasonable search and seizures. Because the officer’s act of putting his head inside the vehicle to hear better was still reasonable, the evidence could be admitted as part of the case.
The driver was charged with the disorderly persons offense of marijuana possession, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(4), and improper safety glass, N.J.S.A. 39:3-75.
State v. Bealor
Although the driver in State v. Stephen Mendel was not charged with DUI or DWI, it is possible that these same circumstances could lead to more drivers being charged with driving under the influence of marijuana in the future. In State v. Bealor, a case from 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined that the government can use circumstantial evidence to determine that a driver is operating a vehicle while intoxicated due to marijuana. Proofs in the Bealor case included the smell of burnt marijuana on defendant. Therefore, based on these two cases, police officers may be more likely to bring charges for DUI in the future, if the Courts are more willing to consider these kinds of searches as reasonable.
How an Attorney Can Help
If you or someone you know is charged with DUI or DWI as the result of drugs or alcohol, the circumstances surrounding the arrest and charges will be very important. A good attorney will analyze every aspect of the facts in your case in order to determine if the police officers acted legally and responsibly in bringing the charges against you. If an officer does violate the 4th Amendment and commits an unreasonable search and seizure, or otherwise investigates you in a way that is not allowed by the law, any evidence obtained could be excluded from the case. For instance, observations that lead to a charge for drunk driving or driving under the influence could be deemed inadmissible. This could lead to the charges against you being thrown out or dismissed completely.
New Jersey DUI Attorney Edward M. Janzekovich Will Fight to Protect Your Rights
If you or someone you know has been arrested, charged, or convicted for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you need a good lawyer to review the case. An experienced attorney will be able to review the facts and decide if any of your rights have been violated or if you’re entitled to a dismissal. A good lawyer can make all the difference. To speak with an experienced New Jersey DWI lawyer about your situation, call us at 732-257-1137 or contact us online today. We serve clients throughout the state of New Jersey.