NJ: When driver can’t or won’t produce registration, a limited search for it is permissible

“Sufficient credible evidence supported the trial court’s determination that defendant was given an adequate opportunity to present the vehicle’s registration before the search commenced. When a driver is unwilling or unable to present proof of a vehicle’s ownership, a police officer may conduct a limited search for the registration papers in the areas where they are likely kept in the vehicle. When a police officer can readily determine that the driver or passenger is the lawful possessor of the vehicle-despite an inability to produce the registration-a warrantless search for proof of ownership will not be justified.” State v. Terry, 2018 N.J. LEXIS 468 (Mar. 14, 2018). From the syllabus:

3. The rationale for a limited registration search exception is (1) the minimal invasion of the driver’s reasonable expectation of privacy; (2) the furtherance of public safety in general and officer safety in particular; and (3) the recognition that, for constitutional purposes, a brief and restricted search is arguably less intrusive than impounding the vehicle and conducting an inventory search later. Accordingly, after a driver is given the opportunity to present the vehicle’s ownership credentials but is unwilling or unable to do so, a police officer may engage in a pinpointed search limited to those places, such as a glove box, where proof of ownership is ordinarily kept. If a driver or passenger explains to an officer that he has lost or forgotten his registration, and the officer can readily determine that either is the lawful possessor, then a warrantless search for proof of ownership is not justified. Modern technology may increasingly allow police officers to make such timely determinations. (pp. 31-34)

4. The trial court held that defendant was given a meaningful opportunity to present the truck’s rental papers, and he failed to do so. There is sufficient credible evidence to support that conclusion. From the objectively reasonable viewpoint of the officers, defendant was unwilling or unable to produce proof of ownership. At that point, the totality of defendant’s behavior raised a reasonable suspicion that the truck might be a stolen vehicle. Permitting a driver to maintain possession of a potentially stolen motor vehicle is a public safety risk. All in all, the officers acted reasonably, in accordance with New Jersey precedents permitting a limited registration search without a warrant and the dictates of the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Paragraph 7 of the State Constitution. (pp. 34-39)

This entry was posted in Automobile exception. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.