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Limit On Police Requests For Passengers To Exit Vehicle

Limit On Police Requests For Passengers To Exit Vehicle

In State v. Bacome, a pretextual motor vehicle stop led to the discovery of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) in a vehicle. The NJ Appellate Division affirmed that police must have a “reasonable and articulable belief that their safety is in danger” before they can order passengers to exit a motor vehicle during a traffic stop. On April 11, 2014, Tawain Bacome and another gentleman suspected of drug use and distribution were followed by Woodbridge detectives to Newark. While in Newark, the detectives lost sight of the vehicle and returned to Woodbridge to wait for the vehicle to return. Upon seeing the vehicle coming into town, the detectives also noticed the passenger was not wearing a seatbelt and conducted a stop during which the passenger was ordered from the vehicle. Upon the passenger’s exit from the vehicle, the detectives saw certain evidence of crack use in plain view and used the evidence to obtain the vehicle’s owner’s consent to search. Ultimately, 13 vials of crack were discovered in the vehicle and Bacome was charged with drug possession and intent to distribute. The NJ Superior Court, Law Division, Criminal Part of Middlesex County denied Bacome’s motion to suppress the crack cocaine and other evidence found during the stop. On appeal, the NJ Appellate Division upheld State v. Smith, 134 N.J. 599, 637 A.2d 158 (1994) which set forth the need for police to have “reasonable and articulable belief that their safety is in danger” before they can order passengers to exit a motor vehicle during a traffic stop. Smith is more restrictive on police than the requirements set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Maryland v. Wilson, 518 U.S. 408 (1997) wherein it was established that police officers were permitted to instruct passengers to exit a motor vehicle as long as the vehicle is stopped for a lawful reason. The NJ Appellate Division found the stop to be pretextual, based not on the passenger’s failure to wear a seatbelt but rather the detectives’ interest in searching the vehicle for evidence of drug use or distribution. The Appellate Division determined that the evidence should be suppressed and Bacome allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. If you are now facing charges as a result of a warrantless search and seizure, you should obtain experienced criminal defense counsel to represent you against the State’s charges. For more information about traffic stops, search and seizure, warrant requirements, warrantless searches, drug possession or distribution charges or other serious criminal matters in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.

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