When the driver of a motor vehicle violates New Jersey’s traffic laws, the driver has subjected themselves to a potential police initiated traffic stop. Typically when a motor vehicle has been detained for a traffic stop, the driver of the vehicle is questioned by the detaining police officer. If unusual circumstances such as the presence of drugs are present during a traffic stop, the detaining officer may have the right to conduct a more detailed investigation and potentially further question passengers in the motor vehicle.
Although it is generally uncommon that a passenger is searched during a traffic stop, the circumstances in a recent traffic stop gave way to New Jersey police questioning, searching and arresting a passenger in the car for a drug offense based on possession.
The traffic stop was initiated after the driver of the motor vehicle failed to follow a traffic regulation when he did not stop at a flashing red light. A police officer witnessed the traffic violation and pulled the vehicle over.
During the traffic related detainment, the police officer noticed a passenger in the vehicle allegedly had marijuana particles on his shirt. The alleged marijuana particles gave way for the police officer to search the passenger. Pursuant to the search, the police officer allegedly discovered a marijuana blunt on the passenger’s person. The passenger was arrested and criminally charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance.
When defending a search and seizure, police will often argue that their eye is trained to detect drugs such as marijuana. That may be true, but how trained are they to detect minute particles? How big were the particles? Was there an odor of marijuana? Were there any other factors that should be considered to determine whether the search was lawful? These are questions that a defense attorney will not leave unanswered.
Source: New Jersey Herald, “Morristown man arrested on drug charges,” Dec. 19, 2012