If you are stopped by an officer in Ocean or Monmouth County and he/she asks if they can search your vehicle, do you know your rights? Do you know what happens next if you say no? Do you know if the officer has a right at any point to search your vehicle without your consent? Knowing the answers to these questions can be the difference between getting to your destination on time or sitting on the side of the road for a long period of time while officers search through your entire vehicle and its contents.
What are your rights?
During the time of the stop, you still have your right to privacy under both the state and federal constitution.
However, there are two main ways an officer can gather evidence to declare a “warrant exception” during the time of the stop. The first warrant exception is “plain view.” If the officer can identify any illegal item or substance such as a weapon, drugs, drug paraphernalia, etc. while only looking into the vehicle, then he/she can search your car without a warrant. Falling under the “plain view” doctrine is the concept of “plain smell.” If the officer can smell contraband (usually marijuana) at the time of the stop, then probable cause is established and he/she may be able to search the car without a warrant if he/she can also establish exigent circumstances..
In both of these situations, the officer must see or smell the illegal substance during the stop and cannot have prior knowledge of the substance’s presence in the vehicle. Fred Sisto had evidence thrown out in a case where the officers attempted to use the plain view doctrine notwithstanding their prior knowledge of the evidence’s location.
The second most common warrant exception is consent. If the officer cannot gather enough evidence for a warrant exception during the time of the stop, then he can ask you for consent. If you allow the officer to search your vehicle, then he has obtained a warrant exception.
However, this can be contested in court due to a ruling in 2002 which declared that the driver could feel pressured or obligated to allow the officer to search the vehicle.
Will saying no provide enough suspicion to allow the officer to search the vehicle?
Saying no can not legally raise suspicion. Also, without reasonable suspicion to briefly detain or probable cause to arrest you, the officer cannot keep you at the stop until he/she obtains a warrant.