Exigency Following Chase Supports Auto Exception Search – State v. Carroll

This morning’s Appellate Division decision in State v. Carroll is a critically important case in the development of New Jersey search and seizure jurisprudence related to the exigent circumstances that support the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.

In State v. Cooke, 163 N.J. 657 (2000), the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that under the State Constitution, the automobile exception to the warrant requirement is grounded in a showing by the prosecution of both probable cause and exigent circumstances. Prior to the publication earlier this year of State v. Dunlap, 185 N.J. 543 (2006), all of the published case law following Cooke had reported that exigent circumstances existed to a sufficient degree to support the search under the automobile exception. However, the Dunlap, the Court found that the presence of at least 10 police officers at the arrest scene vitiated the exigency. This opinion has engendered a degree of confusion among police agencies and prosecutors as to how many police officers are needed at the scene to an arrest to remove the exigent circumstances.

In today’s decision in Carroll, the Appellate Division distinguished Dunlap in the following way. The police in Dunlap had time to prepare for the defendant’s arrival and arrest. In a sense, the police exercised a degree of control over how and where the arrest would take place. By contrast, the arrest in Carroll occurred following a high-speed pursuit, replete with physical resistance by the defendant, a blatant attempt by him to discard evidence and a car crash in a casino parking lot. Although numerous police and EMS personnel responded to the scene of the arrest, the spontaneous nature of the situation confronting the police created exigent circumstances of sufficient magnitude to support a warrantless search of the defendant’s vehicle under the automobile exception.

Download a copy of State v. Carroll.

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