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Police and Law Enforcement Home  >  Roll Call  >  Tactics - Asking the Driver to Step Out of the Car


Roll Call

Weekly Law Enforcement
Training and Review


Tactics - Asking the
Driver to Step Out of the Car

Police and Law Enforcement News
Saturday, February 9
2013 10:24  a.m.


With New Jersey's search and seizure laws tightening each year, it's more important than ever to be well versed in the latest and the long established laws of search and seizure.

One excellent resource, when on a motor vehicle stop, is having the driver step out of the car.

Having the driver step out of the car removes his or her ability to conceal contraband under his or her body and legs. 

It also removes the person from the comfort zone.  Standing face-to-face allows the officer an excellent vantage point from which to read body language (constantly looking back to the car, hands going into pockets, hand inadvertently being placed over a pocket, etc.) and get a better assessment of the driver's demeanor.

It also makes it more difficult for the driver to turn the stop into a pursuit.  And, if there are multiple subjects in the car, it allows you to question them separately and see if their stories match.

As far as the law goes, there is no legal requirement.  A police officer needs no reason to have a driver step out of the car.  Under Federal law, this provision comes out of Pennsylvania vs. Mimms

Under New Jersey law, the New Jersey State Supreme Court held in New Jersey vs. Smith, " we conclude that the Mimms test, as applied to drivers, satisfies the New Jersey Constitution as well. "  (If outside of new Jersey, check your state laws)

It should be noted that the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to apply the same rule toward passengers.  They held, "an officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts that would warrant heightened caution to justify ordering the occupants to step out of a vehicle detained for a traffic violation."

They continued to define "heightened caution" as a level of suspicion less than reasonable suspicion.  "There will be instances, however, in which police officers, with less than a reasonable suspicion that a passenger is engaged in criminal activity or is armed or dangerous, may reasonably order a passenger to step out of the car."

While having a driver exit the car is a valuable tool, it should be utilized carefully.

A person outside of their vehicle is much more capable of launching an attack.  They are much more capable of fleeing. 

If there is more than one person in the car, removing the driver now splits your attention.

For these reasons, you should always have at least a second officer on scene before taking anyone out of a car.  It's also good idea to perform warrant checks before taking removing anyone.  If there is a warrant, they are much more likely to run or fight.  Knowing beforehand allows you to make the arrest in the door well as they're exiting the car before they realize what's happening.

Safety always comes before the package or the arrest.





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