Can Police Search me without a Warrant in NJ?


The New Jersey Constitution mirrors the United States Constitution in guaranteeing a citizen’s right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Police departments have been criticized in recent years for stopping citizens on the street and searching them without a warrant. In fact, a federal judge recently held that the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy for public warrantless searches violated the Constitution. While stopping and searching individuals is a highly controversial and continually evolving topic, it is very important to know your rights as a citizen in New Jersey. Here is everything you need to know about warrantless searches carried out in public by NJ police officers. If you have been arrested for drug charges, including heroin possessionintent to distribute cocainepossessing MDMAunlawful possession of a weapon, or another crime after being searched by police, you should seek specific advice based on the facts of your particular case. Our local criminal defense attorneys in Ocean County can provide you with tailored legal guidance from experienced professionals who have been defending clients in Brick, Jackson, Manchester, Berkeley Township, Lacey, Toms River and surrounding communities for years. Contact our office in Point Pleasant at (848) 238-2100 if you need a free consultation.

When Can an Officer Detain Me?

Under the Fourth Amendment to the federal and New Jersey Constitution, if officers do not have a search warrant or a warrant for your arrest, they cannot hold you for an unreasonable period of time or arrest you unless they have reasonable suspicion to believe that you have committed, are committing, or are about to commit a crime. Reasonable suspicion involves more than a simple hunch or gut feeling. To avoid violating your rights, an officer must be able to point to specific, articulable facts supporting their suspicion of criminal activity. At least one New Jersey court has concluded that a person running away from a police car cannot, in and of itself, establish reasonable suspicion for detention.

Reasonable suspicion can be based on an officer’s knowledge of a person’s criminal history based on past interactions, the location where the person is found (whether it is in a high crime area or outside a business or other location after hours, when the person would not be expected to be there for any legitimate purpose), a person’s behavior (fidgeting, placing their hands in their pockets, pacing back and forth in front of a bank or jewelry store, etc.), inability to explain odd behavior, and a myriad of other factors. When these factors are taken in isolation, they may not establish reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. In combination, they may establish the specific, articulable facts that an officer needs to briefly detain and question a person.

Can Police Pat Me Down if I Haven’t Been Arrested?

Assuming that officers have established reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the law permits them to briefly detain and question a citizen, even if they do not have a warrant. If an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that a person may have a dangerous weapon like a knife or a gun on their person, the officer may conduct a pat down to confirm if that person has a weapon. Notably, the fact that you may be in possession of a weapon is among the only reasons why a police officer is permitted to search you without a warrant and before making an arrest.

If an officer finds sufficient evidence to establish probable cause that you have a weapon, have committed a crime, or have evidence of a crime, they can arrest you. Once you are being arrested, police may conduct a more thorough search of your bags or other belongings as part of the arrest process. While New Jersey and federal law permits an arrest based on probable cause, police can and do violate individuals’ rights in some cases. When a violation of your rights has occurred through an unlawful search, any evidence obtained thereafter may be deemed inadmissible. Speaking with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer is a good way to know for sure if this applies to your case.

Local Jackson NJ Stop and Search Defense Lawyers

If you believe you have been stopped, searched, and arrested in violation of your rights, contact a qualified Ocean County criminal defense attorney at our firm without delay. We can evaluate the facts of your case to determine if police lacked reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or a warrant that could aid in your defense. Please call (848) 238-2100 or contact us online for more information.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.