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NJ Criminal Procedure and Improper Searches in New Jersey

What is an Improper Search in New Jersey?

An improper search in New Jersey generally is an illegal search that violates an individual's constitutional right to privacy. 

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement in places where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. This includes their residence, property, and body, as well as specific areas of a motor vehicle (such as a locked trunk), and certain public places (for example, a public restroom stall). 

For a search to be reasonable, and therefore proper:

  • Police must have probable cause to believe incriminating evidence exists and they obtain a search warrant from a judge, or
  • The circumstances make it lawful for police to conduct a search without a warrant. 

A court can suppress evidence found during an improper search, meaning it cannot be used against the defendant during their trial. An experienced criminal defense attorney from the Law Office of Charles Dawkins Jr., LLC will examine your case and determine whether your rights were violated. Call us today at 908-962-9929 to schedule a Consultation.

Proper versus Improper Searches in New Jersey

A court will consider several factors when deciding whether a search was conducted properly.

Proper Searches

A proper, or lawful, search is conducted

  • Under a proper warrant;
  • Without a proper warrant but where the police believe in good faith there is a lawful basis for the search–the “good faith exception.” (For example, if the police rely in good faith on an invalid search warrant and otherwise behave properly during the search.)
  • Where the circumstances mean a warrant is not required

Some Situations that do not require a warrant include where:

  • Police search a person after a lawful arrest
  • Police search a vehicle after a lawful stop
  • Plain view exception:: (a) observation from a permissible vantage point; (b) discovery inadvertent; contraband or evidence of a crime.
  • A person is briefly held for investigation during a “stop and frisk” or "Terry Stop" Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)
  • The search relates to a person the authorities are in “hot pursuit” that focuses on the danger to police and public. State v. Bolte, 115 N.J. 579 (1989)
  • The person being searched or the property owner consents to the search 

In these situations, law enforcement can conduct a proper search without a warrant. 

Improper Searches

An improper, or unlawful, a search occurs when:

  • The police conduct a search without a warrant in circumstances where a warrant is required
  • The police conduct a search under an improper warrant and the good-faith exception does not apply
  • The search is conducted in a way that violates a person's reasonable expectation of privacy

If these circumstances exist, a defendant may file a motion with the court asking it to find the search improper and apply the exclusionary rule. 

An Improper Search and the Exclusionary Rule

The exclusionary rule generally prevents the government from relying on evidence obtained as a result of a violation of an individual's constitutional rights. It means that any evidence found in the course of an improper search cannot be used as evidence against a defendant during a criminal trial. 

When to Hire a Criminal Defense Lawyer in New Jersey

If the prosecution is relying on evidence found during a police search, you should ask an experienced criminal defense lawyer at the Law Office of Charles Dawkins Jr., LLC to review your case. They can advise you whether the correct search and seizure procedures were followed. All cases are fact specific and can not be answered with a cookie-cutter approach.

If your constitutional rights have been violated by an improper search, our defense lawyers can help you argue that the evidence found during the search should be suppressed at your trial. If successful, this may weaken the prosecution's case against you and help you defend the charges. To learn more, you should contact the Law Office of Charles Dawkins Jr., LLC today by calling 908-962-9929 or submitting an online form today and schedule a Consultation.

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