NJ strip search for $6.50 traffic ticket violates state statute

New Jersey by statute prohibits strip searches except for a crime. Defendant was arrested for an outstanding $6.50 traffic ticket and strip searched. The state can’t bootstrap this arrest into a search incident. State v. Evans, 2017 N.J. Super. LEXIS 24 (Feb. 28, 2017):

The search in this case was one incident to arrest, which may not be relied upon as the recognized exception to the warrant requirement to satisfy the second criteria of subsection 2A:161A-1(b). Hayes, supra, 327 N.J. Super. at 378, 743 A.2d 378. In Hayes, we reasoned, “the strip search statute’s protections are triggered by an arrest. An arrest alone, therefore, cannot be both the event invoking the protections as well as the event nullifying them.” Ibid. We also rejected the State’s contention that the lack of sufficient time to obtain a warrant “and the likelihood that the defendant would continue to conceal or otherwise dispose of the evidence creates an exigency justifying a warrantless search under [N.J.S.A. 2A:161A-1(b)].” Ibid. We noted that if this contention were accepted, “it would effectively nullify the statutory protection afforded to persons detained or arrested for non-criminal offenses.” Ibid.

The State argues that the “plain feel” exception to the warrant requirement applied here, constituting a “recognized exception to the warrant requirement.” Defendant contends the plain feel exception “is not properly understood as an exception to the warrant requirement” and therefore cannot be a foundation for the “substantial additional intrusion” of a strip search. He argues further that even if accepted as an exception to the warrant requirement, the application of a plain feel exception in strip search cases would nullify the protections of the strip search statute because “any time an officer felt what he suspected to be drugs during a pat down, he would automatically be justified in conducting a strip search.”

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