Muni-mail: Supreme Court retains exigency in Automobile Searches – State v. Minitee

[06/14/12 – 10:27 am] This morning, in a case captioned State v. Minitee, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that police acted reasonably under the automobile exception when they searched a van that they had towed to the police station. In the 6-1 decision (Justice Albin dissenting), the Court held that the exigent circumstances the police confronted while on the street justified the removal of the vehicle to the police impound. Moreover, the exigency continued even though the vehicle was safely in police custody.

The Court’s decision in this case reverses an Appellate Division holding which rejected the ruling by the United States Supreme Court in Chambers v. Maroney. Today’s ruling means that New Jersey will continue to follow that SCOTUS precedent. The opinion also marks the Court’s continuing commitment to requiring exigent circumstances as an element of the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.

Finally, in light of the fact-specific nature of this holding, where probable cause exists, police and prosecutors would be well- advised to seek a telephonic search warrant before searching an impounded motor vehicle for criminal evidence.

Click here to download a copy of State v. Minitee.

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