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.
resource, when on a motor vehicle stop, is having the driver step out of
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
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
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
comes before the package or the arrest.