Search Incident to Arrest under New Jersey Law

In the New Jersey Supreme Court case of State v. Pierce, the Court limited the application of the Belton rule. State v. Pierce, 136 N.J. 184 (1994). The Court held that the Belton rule of permitting searches incident to a lawful arrest during a motor vehicle stop would not apply in New Jersey in those situations where the underlying reason for the arrest was a violation of the motor vehicle laws. Fearing that the statute could be used by police to effect arrests on the slightest pretext and use the opportunity to search vehicles under the Belton rule, the justices declared that searches under Belton shall not apply to warrantless arrests for motor vehicle offenses. Finally, in State v. Eckel, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that, under the New Jersey Constitution, Belton would no longer apply. State v. Eckel, 185 N.J. 523 (2006). With this decision, New Jersey police officers lost the option of searching a motor vehicle incident to the arrest of one of the vehicle’s occupants.

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