A divided New Jersey Supreme Court this week defined parameters for when police can search a car without a warrant, but the dissenting justices said the ruling created a legal “quagmire” that would hinder officers, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. The ruling stemmed from two cases – one originating in Camden – in which police arrested suspects following traffic stops. In both cases, subsequent searches turned up drugs and weapons in the vehicles. The defendants in both cases argued that the searches were illegal.
The Supreme Court long has held that police officers may search a vehicle without a warrant when they have reason to believe that the car contains evidence and when special circumstances require an immediate search. The court has said that determining whether those “exigent circumstances” exist must be done on a “case-by-case basis.” In the 4-3 ruling, the majority said the search in one case was legal because those circumstances were present. In the second case, they said those circumstances did not exist. But the minority justices said the ruling means police officers would have to get a warrant before any search “unless they wish to hazard a guess that they meet the majority’s formless ‘exigent circumstances’ test.”