I represented a client earlier this week who was charged with possession of marijuana (under 50 grams) in Union Township Municipal Court in Union County, New Jersey. My client was pulled over for a moving violation and the officer allegedly smelled marijuana in the vehicle. The officer asked my client if he could search the vehicle and my client allegedly consented. However, the officer failed to have my client execute a “Consent to Search Form” and failed to include in his report that he informed my client that he had the right to refuse to consent to the search of his vehicle (as required by law).
As a result of the above facts, I filed a Motion to Suppress the marijuana recovered in the search of the vehicle because the search was illegal. The search was not executed with the valid consent of my client based on the failure to obtain an executed consent to search form. Moreover, the search was not conducted based on one of the other exceptions to the warrant requirement such as plain view, impound, or search incident to arrest. The plain view exception allows police to seize illegal contraband if the evidence is in “plain view” and the officer has a right to be in the place where he views the evidence. For example, if the officer in the above case walked up to the vehicle and viewed a bag of marijuana on the floor of the driver’s side, this would be in “plain view” and the officer would have a valid exception to the warrant requirement. Moreover, pursuant to the “impound” exception to the warrant requirement, if my client was driving with a suspended license and the vehicle had to be impounded because my client could not lawfully drive the vehicle from the scene of the stop, then if the evidence was seized pursuant to a valid inventory search of the vehicle as part of the impound process, this evidence would also be admissible as validly recovered.
Without a warrant, the above case was a violation of my client’s constitutional rights and an illegal warrantless search. The prosecutor recognized the error in the State’s investigation and agreed to dismiss the charges. This was an extremely satisfying result for my client and the firm.