The New Jersey Supreme Court continued: To overcome the presumption under both the United States and the New Jersey Constitutions that a warrantless search is invalid, the State must show by a preponderance of evidence that the search falls within one of the well-recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement. One such exception is the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. In State v. Alston, the New Jersey Supreme Court applied federal constitutional law and concluded that “the exigent circumstances that justify the invocation of the automobile exception are the unforeseeability and spontaneity of the circumstances giving rise to probable cause, and the inherent mobility of the automobile stopped on the highway.” 88 N.J. 211, 233 (1981) (emphasis added). Under subsequent federal decisions, however, the United States Supreme Court has held that probable cause to believe a car contains contraband “alone satisfies the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.” Maryland v. Dyson, 527 U.S. 465, 467 (1999). The federal automobile exception thus does not require “a separate finding of exigency in addition to a finding of probable cause.” Ibid.
In Witt, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to adopt the federal standard while simultaneously overruling state cases decided after Alston that imposed an exigent-circumstances requirement. The Witt Court viewed Alston’s requirement that probable cause be unforeseeable and spontaneous to “properly balance the individual’s privacy and liberty interests and law enforcement’s investigatory demands.” 223 N.J. at 447. Importantly, Witt explained that Alston’s “unforeseeability and spontaneity” requirement “does not place an undue burden on law enforcement.” Ibid. Witt deliberately kept the “unforeseeability and spontaneity” language first articulated in Alston and explicitly fortified it with the extra protections guaranteed under Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. Article I, Paragraph 7 thus offers greater protection than the Fourth Amendment with regard to the automobile exception through the extra requirement that the circumstances giving rise to probable cause be “unforeseeable and spontaneous” — in addition to the inherent mobility of the automobile stopped on a roadway. In New Jersey, both elements are necessary to justify a warrantless automobile search.
The Court’s citation to the New Jersey Constitution makes this case immune from review by the United States Supreme Court. The New Jersey Supreme Court is the final arbiter of issues decided under our state constitution.