NH recognizes limited state automobile exception under state constitution where a warrant is not required where “the police have probable cause to believe that a plainly visible item in the vehicle is contraband.” State v. Cora, 2017 N.H. LEXIS 132 (June 27, 2017):
The State appeals an order of the Superior Court … granting the motion filed by the defendant, Daniel Jesus Cora, to suppress all evidence obtained from the warrantless entry by the police into his vehicle. See RSA 606:10 (2001). On appeal, the State contends that the police were allowed to enter the vehicle without a warrant either under the federal automobile exception to the warrant requirement, which the State asks that we adopt under the State Constitution, or because the defendant had a diminished expectation of privacy in the interior space of his vehicle that is visible to the public. Under the federal automobile exception, police officers, with probable cause to search “a lawfully stopped vehicle,” may conduct a warrantless search “of every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search.” United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 825, 102 S. Ct. 2157, 72 L. Ed. 2d 572 (1982).
The State urges us to overrule our decision in State v. Sterndale, 139 N.H. 445, 449-50, 656 A.2d 409 (1995), in which we declined to adopt, under Part I, Article 19 of the State Constitution, the federal automobile exception to the warrant requirement as articulated in Ross and other Supreme Court cases. Alternatively, the State asks that we conclude that Sterndale has been abrogated by our decision in State v. Goss, 150 N.H. 46, 48-49, 834 A.2d 316 (2003), and that we adopt a “slightly more narrow exception” to the warrant requirement based upon the defendant’s diminished expectation of privacy in the “publicly visible areas of his car.”
We decline to overrule Sterndale. However, we agree with the State that Sterndale has been abrogated by Goss, at least in part, and that its abrogation requires that we re-evaluate whether to adopt an automobile exception to our warrant requirement. We now recognize a limited automobile exception to the warrant requirement pursuant to which the police do not need to obtain a warrant to enter an automobile when the vehicle has been lawfully stopped while in transit and the police have probable cause to believe that a plainly visible item in the vehicle is contraband.
In this case, the police did not need a warrant before entering the defendant’s vehicle because the vehicle was subject to a lawful traffic stop, and the police had probable cause to believe that the baggie and cigarette, which were plainly visible, were drugs. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.