Although a police officer is under no obligation to inform a detained motorist of the right to remain silent (one of the famous Miranda rights), does a driver have the right to remain silent during a traffic stop in New Jersey? In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court held that a person being detained for criminal investigation is not obligated to respond to the questions of the police. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). This same right applies in New Jersey. The rules of evidence provide that every natural person has a right to refuse to disclose to a law enforcement officer any matter that will incriminate him or expose him to a penalty.
There are some limited exceptions to this rule in the motor vehicle context. Motorists who are involved in motor vehicle accidents are affirmatively required to provide the police, witnesses and other parties involved in the accident certain information. This includes the driver’s name and address as well as his or her license and registration. Furthermore, the driver has a duty to report the accident to the police and to provide extensive details on the cause of the accident to the Chief administrator of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). We frequently represent individuals who are charged with failure to report an accident in New Jersey which entails significant penalties.
In reality, motorists frequently make admissions, excuses, and complaints during motor vehicle stops. These admissions are noted by the law enforcement officer on the back of the summons and then repeated in municipal court where they are used against the defendant. These are considered voluntary admissions under the rules of evidence and they are therefore admissible as an exception to the hearsay rule.