Search and Seizure

Article excerpt

In March 2002 the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a decision in State v. Steven J. Carty that imposed strict limits on when consent searches of motorists and motor vehicles can be performed by police.

The case began in 1997 when state troopers on the New Jersey Turnpike stopped a car, driven by Leroy Coley, for speeding. Carty was a passenger in the car. Coley agreed to sign a form consenting to a search. He and Carty were then frisked and cocaine was found on Carty.

Carty was subsequently convicted of a drug offense and he appealed. Ultimately, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the conviction, holding that "[C]onsent searches following a lawful stop of a motor vehicle should not be deemed valid ... unless there is reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe that an errant motorist or passenger has engaged in, or is about to engage in, criminal activity."

Much of the court's decision was based on its belief that people often feel compelled to give search consents after being stopped for minor violations. In any event, police, prosecutors and defense lawyers agree that this new standard creates a major limitation on when consent searches are permissible in New Jersey.

The Supreme Court of Missouri in State of Missouri v. Todd Mack recently ruled in favor of local officers in Lincoln County on an issue concerning investigatory stops. On June 24, 1999, the officers set up a drug checkpoint ruse, whereby signs stating that there was a drug enforcement checkpoint one-mile ahead were placed near a highway exit.

The signs intended to mislead drivers into thinking that the checkpoint was at another exit up the road and, if their intent was to avoid the police, take the earlier exit- where the checkpoint really was. Around 11:00 PM, Mack apparently fell into this ruse. The officers saw him swerve suddenly into their checkpoint's off ramp, almost missing the turn. Mack was stopped and found to be very nervous. He also had bloodshot eyes and smelled of alcohol. …