The New Jersey Supreme Court recently approved a warrantless search of a vehicle’s glove box for registration and related documentation. In doing so, the Court set parameters for when such a search will be constitutionally valid.
Defendant’s truck ran a traffic control and almost hit a police car. The officer activated his lights and sirens and pursued the truck. Defendant did not stop, but continued driving erratically. The officer checked the vehicle, which was a rental that was not reported stolen. Defendant subsequently turned into a gas station and stopped. The officer pulled in behind the truck, while a back-up vehicle pulled in up front. The officer then repeatedly ordered the defendant to show his hands, but the defendant did not respond. The officer opened the vehicle’s door and ordered the defendant to get out. Defendant left the vehicle, leaned against it, placed his hands in his pockets, and asked why he was pulled over. The officer directed the defendant to show his hands, and he complied slowly. He was then patted down for weapons. He produced his driver’s license when asked for identification. He was then asked for a vehicle registration and proof of insurance, but did not respond. When asked a second time, he shrugged his shoulders. He did not make any gestures that would indicate that the requested documents were on his person or in the truck. When asked if he owned the truck or had any paperwork for it, he again failed to respond. The officer then approached the passenger door, opened it, and looked in the glove box which was believed to be the most common place for keeping such papers. He found nothing in the glove box, but discovered a handgun on the floorboard.
The motion judge denied a defense motion to suppress, finding that the officer was credible and had the right to search for the documentation in the place where it is typically kept. The court also found that the discovery of the handgun fell within the plain view exception to the warrant requirement. The defendant was convicted of weapons offenses at trial, but the Appellate Division reversed, finding that the warrantless search of the truck violated both the federal and state constitutions. Continue reading