Every Friday night at my job, an employee and I work until 3 in the morning dealing with our stores truck shipment. After work we usually hang out in the lot and talk for a bit before parting ways. However, the past few weeks we've enjoyed the lovely company of the local police force just "making sure" we work there. The usual routine is them getting out of the vehicle, searching our interiors through the windows and asking for identification of some kind/proof of employment.
- I'm aware of strict NJ search and seizure laws that prohibit officers from searching vehicles based on "probable cause" and that they need warrants.
- Neither of us do drugs or have any form of contraband in our cars so while there is nothing to hide, to me that's no reason to just open my doors for them.
- What rights do they, as police officers, have when it comes to searching us or asking for identification. As much as I remember, without probable cause they can't be expected to obtain our IDs or proof of our employment at the establishment we work at.
I'm not trying to be a dick or give them a hard time but the entire situation is bogus. We are in plain sight in front of the store, with our lights on, vehicles idling as they warm up, and are even wearing jackets with the company's logo on them.
The 4th Amendment of the US Constitution protects from UNREASONABLE Search and Seizures. Unless permission is granted or there is something else that gives them the belief that there could have been a crime, or a crime is about to occur, then what they are doing is illegal. It does not stop them from a visual search from the exterior of the car, because there is no expectation of privacy in this case. So my question to you is: are they tearing your car apart from the inside, or are they just looking from the exterior? If you feel like they have crossed the line, they politely ask them that you would like to speak with their Field Supervisor or Watch Commander.
Lastly, don't assume what they are doing is bad. Them being there could also protect you from and bad guys lurking in the area. If you aren't doing anything wrong, be friendly with them and after awhile, they will get to know you and probably just wave to you as they pass by.
Thank you for the reply. No, they aren't tearing my car apart or at this point even asking too, but I don't want it to get to that point. The other day I bottled some homebrew with my brother and still had a few boxes, the bottle capper, and some homebrew equipment in the car. I know they can search from the exterior, however if they decide anything in my car could be "probable cause" what defense do I have against that? The reason I asked is they seemed particularly interested in the boxes and spent quite a bit of time trying to look in them from outside the window. From my time spent on grand jury duty in central jersey, the one prosecutor mentioned that even with probable cause they would need a warrant to physically enter a vehicle since it is now treated as private property such as your home. I wanted to verify the authenticity of that claim as well.
My main concern is, with the near 30 years spent living in this town I know how they can be. The one officer last night was very polite, he asked us what we were doing, we explained to him the situation and he just said "Oh, ok. Well you know it's late so we just stopped by to make sure everything was ok. Have a good night." We both thanked him and said good night to him as well. It was the other officer who decided to pursue the matter despite the situation of me wearing the company jacket, and our vehicles in plain sight with lights on. Like you said in your reply, given the situation there is no expectation to privacy, so what about cell phones? The other week we were overseeing my friends younger brother selling his car to another person who was towing it away on a dolly. We had all the necessary paperwork, in a parking lot of a local shop where the car was sitting with headlights on and clearly visible. About 5 police officers, an SUV, and unmarked vehicle all arrived and pretty much locked down the area while they "investigated" it despite our documentation on hand. My one friend was on the phone with his mom and the sergeant approached him and angrily told him to put away the phone.
No cop will ever wait for a warrant to search a car. This is just not necessary because case law specifically states that if there is P/C to search a car, they by allowing the car to be driven away will constitute exigent circumstances due to the bad guy's ability to destroy the evidence. Also, if there is any reason to tow a car, a cop must conduct a complete inventory of its contents, and guess what....and inventory of the car is actually a search of the car, so no warrant would be necessary.
Phones are a little different. There are cases where phones have actually been rigged as homemade zip guns and if the cop articulates this correctly, he can order you to drop the cell phone for his safety. Many also use the cell phone to take photos of the cop, which is your legal right. Unfortunately, if he believes this could help him with his investigation, he has the ability to seize it and book it into evidence, so the detectives could view the images at a later time. Can he do it? Yes. Will he do it? I highly doubt it.
As said before, anytime you feel violated, POLITELY ask for his supervisor to respond and this will keep the officer on the straight and narrow and if he is doing something illegal, he will pay for it. As a proud retired cop, I personally detest dirty cops and they eventually will pay for their actions.
however if they decide anything in my car could be "probable cause" what defense do I have against that?
Why bother anyway? While the old rule is dead in NJ that the mobility of the car creates the necessary exigent circumstances to justify a search after a claim of probable cause you are still confronted with a man with a gun and the apparent authority of the state.
You can get out if told to do so and lock the car behind you.
You can announce your objections to a search ( HA HA HA HA HA HA )
Or you can do the smart thing and keep your mouth shut and deal with it later. Later, by filing a Federal Code Section 1983 civil rights action against the officer over his unlawful search.
But don't tell him you will do so. It won't scare him anyway since he will not believe you, he may think he is acting lawfully anyway, and you are not in a position to be offering cops legal advice anyway so just keep it buttoned up and deal with it later.
And take the advice the old general offered when his lieutenant wanted to mount an attack when they saw the enemy was placing their cannon in a disadvantage place.
"Never interrupt your enemy in the middle of making a mistake."
Don't forget that many officers are poorly trained and may not know the law.
Some years ago there was a SCOTUS case (whose citation I forget) involving a low quality informant (insufficient to justify a warrant) and a police invasion and search of a domicile (a trailer) for drugs. Drugs were found and a conviction was obtained but later overturned for the lack of the warrant.
The owner of the trailer sued under Code Section 1983 and the court held that there is an immunity from liability for police in warrantless searches because the law of search and seizure is too complicated for them to understand.