Attorney General Responds to Eckel Decision

On January 3, 2005, Division of Criminal Justice Deputy Director Ron Susswein issued the following memorandum to all county prosecutors and Col. Fuentes of the State Police.


To: All County Prosecutors
Col. Rick Fuentes, Superintendent, NJSP

From: Ron Susswein
Deputy Director, Major Crimes

Date: January 3, 2005

Subject: State v. William Eckel (A-0363-03T4)

On December 29, 2004, in a published opinion written by Judge Weissbard, the Appellate Division reversed the denial of defendant’s motion to suppress and concluded: “unless and until our Supreme Court decides otherwise, Belton [New York vs. Belton, 453 U.S. 454(1981)] does not represent the law in New Jersey under the greater protections provided by our State Constitution…and we decline to follow it”. The Attorney General will be filing a petition for certification from this decision in the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The law enforcement community should be made aware of this ruling, but SOPs should not change until the issue is decided by the Supreme Court. In the meantime, law enforcement officers should be advised to carefully document, in their police reports, all circumstances that might justify an actual wingspan search incident to arrest under Chimel vs. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969), because in many cases, the scope of a Chimel search will be tantamount to a Belton search of the entire passenger cabin.


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