It is unfortunately rare that a judge finds a search invalid after a large quantity of drugs is uncovered. However, this was exactly what a panel of the New Jersey Appellate Division did this week. The court held that the seizure of cocaine, heroin and other controlled dangerous substance (“CDS”) was unconstitutional as there was no valid basis for Woodbridge police officers to demand that the owner of the vehicle exist the car nor thereafter request that he consent to a search of his car.

If you think that you were subjected to an illegal stop and related search of your car, you will find the facts of this Woodbridge Township case very interesting. The officers in the reported case observed two individuals who were known to be involved in using and/or selling narcotics and attempted to follow them all the way to the City of Newark. They eventually lost the vehicle and its two occupants and agreed to await their return to Woodbridge. As they saw the vehicle reenter the township they purportedly noticed that the owner of the vehicle, who was the front seat passenger, was not wearing his seat belt. They stopped the vehicle on that basis. The arresting officer claimed that his partner saw the passenger reach under the seat, however, that officer did not testify at the suppression hearing. The passenger was thereafter directed to exit the vehicle and, following some questioning, consented to a search of the car. Heroin and/or cocaine was thereafter discovered.

In ruling in favor of the defendant and invalidating the stop, the court noted that police are limited in their ability to order a driver or passenger out of a vehicle following a routine traffic stop. The police officer must be “able to point to specific and articulable facts that would warrant heightened caution to justify ordering the occupants to step out of a vehicle detained for a traffic violation.” Since there was no testimony in the case to corroborate a basis for feeling threatened, the demand that the owner exit the vehicle lacked legal basis. The questioning and request for the defendant to consent to a search never should have happened in the eyes of the court as the removal of the accused from the motor vehicle was illegal. The court set aside the conviction and dismissed the case.

The honest truth is that this Woodbridge drug case isn’t unique. Heroin, cocaine and other forms of controlled dangerous substances (“CDS”) are seized almost every day through tactics just like these despite no legal basis for intrusive conduct by police. If you feel like you were subjected to an illegal stop or an unconstitutional search of your vehicle in Woodbridge NJ or anywhere else, it is obviously important that you hire the right attorney to dissect the case against you. This is exactly how we can assist you so give our Woodbridge NJ criminal lawyers a call.