Stopped by a Cop? Think Twice Before Consenting to a Search

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jan 20, 2024 | 0 Comments

A New Jersey couple recently learned a hard lesson about the consequences of allowing police officers to search their car after they were pulled over in Pennsylvania and allowed police to search their car. If you've been arrested by police after a New Jersey traffic stop, contact the Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team for help at 888.535.3686 or by using our contact form.

According to one news report, the two were pulled over on the Pennsylvania Turnpike after driving “for miles in the left lane with dark tint” and “appeared to be at a level of nervousness that ‘pales in comparison' to the average driver being pulled over.” Police say the two consented to a search of their vehicle, which uncovered “a large amount of suspected drugs,” resulting in the couple's arrest.

Traffic Stops Are Tense Situations

We've all been there – pulled over by a cop or waved over at a police checkpoint – and you can probably recall your reaction. Racing pulse, nervous responses to the cop's questions, maybe even a feeling that you must be guilty of something . . . any forced interaction with law enforcement is by definition stressful. But stressful doesn't mean you don't have rights, and it helps to understand what those rights are and to remind yourself of them when the flashing lights appear in your rear-view mirror.

What You Are Required to Do – and What You Don't Have to Do

As a driver, you have some obligations that come along with the driving privileges granted to you by the State of New Jersey when it issues you a driver's license. In particular:

  • You have to show your license
  • You have to show your vehicle's registration and your insurance card
  • If suspected of DWI, you must consent to a breathalyzer test or risk losing your license

But you also have rights. In general, you don't have to do anything other than obey a direct order from the cops on the scene. In almost every case, you have the right:

  • To refuse to consent to a search of your vehicle
  • To refuse to consent to a search of yourself
  • To refuse to answer questions, including ones about where you are coming from, where you are going, and even open-ended questions such as “So what's going on?”

Police Count on You Giving Up Rights

Police know that when they pull you over, you're going to be stressed. They count on you wanting to cooperate with them and get the encounter over with as soon as possible. They use that stress to get people to answer questions and consent to searches that they aren't required to. The problem with consenting to a search, even where you don't believe you have anything illegal in your vehicle, is that in many cases, you might actually have something in your trunk you've forgotten about, or that someone else put there that could get you in trouble.

In many, many cases where people are caught with contraband of one type or another in their vehicles, it's because they gave the police permission to conduct the search – when in most of those cases, they had the right to refuse the request. (And then, refuse to answer the inevitable follow-up question, “So what are you hiding?”)

At the same time, police have a legitimate concern for their own safety, and some of their orders to you are designed to help them make sure they aren't stepping into a dangerous situation. Keeping your hands in sight, following their orders, and responding politely – even when you're declining to answer a question – will help reduce the tension of the situation for the officer.

The Lento Law Firm Criminal Defense Team Can Help

If you're arrested after a New Jersey traffic stop, call the Lento Law Firm for help. Our experienced attorneys understand New Jersey law relating to police stops. We know the criminal laws, the court system and its procedures, and we regularly interact with prosecutors on behalf of our clients. We'll help you understand the charges you're facing and will vigorously defend your rights.

Don't delay; if you've been arrested in New Jersey and are facing criminal charges, call us at 888.535.3686 or use our contact form to set up a confidential consultation.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in New Jersey and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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