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NJ Vehicle Search Ruled Illegal By Court

08
Nov
2010

by in Criminal Appeals

State v. Ender F. Pompa, ? N.J. Super. ?, 2010 N.J. Super. LEXIS 114 (July 2, 2010) – Conviction reversed, case remanded for suppression of evidence and new trial. “Defendant was convicted of various drug offenses after more than thirty pounds of marijuana were seized from the sleeper cabin of his tractor trailer…. [T]he closely regulated business exception permitted a warrantless administrative inspection of certain areas of the tractor trailer, but the search turned unlawful when it progressed into unregulated areas without the exigent circumstances required by State v. Pena-Flores, 198 N.J. 6, 28 (2009)…. [T]he Trooper was entitled to conduct an administrative inspection of defendant’s vehicle pursuant to applicable regulations and the purposes for which those regulations were adopted…. [T]he Level II inspection was permitted and authorized entry into the sleeper cabin since the federal regulations extend that far. However, the regulations do not encompass closets or personal belongings located inside a sleeper cabin and, as a result, the closely regulated business exception cannot form the basis for a warrantless search into those areas. Even if we assume Trooper Budrewicz entered the sleeper cabin for the purpose of conducting a safety check, … , the search inside the cabin’s closet and the opening of the baggage within that closet exceeded the letter and intent of the regulations applicable to sleeper cabins. In short, the search of the cabin’s closet exceeded ‘the spatial scope’ of the administrative inspection…. In deferring to the trial judge’s finding that the Trooper was able to smell raw marijuana in the sleeper cabin, we agree probable cause existed to search further into the sleeper cabin. However, in applying the requirements of Pena-Flores, mere proof of an unexpected vehicle stop and probable cause did not permit a warrantless search beyond the limits of the administrative inspection in the absence of exigent circumstances. As a result, the evidence seized from the closet in the vehicle’s cabin and the additional evidence seized without a warrant thereafter could not be lawfully used against defendant at trial.”

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