If police find an unattended, disabled vehicle on the side of the road, they do not automatically have a right to search the vehicle. The car may be towed and the registered owner notified without a search of the property. However, if something like an open alcohol container or drug paraphernalia is in plain view inside the vehicle, then police may have probable cause to conduct a search in the driver’s absence.
These issues are likely to come up in a case involving a New Jersey man now charged with a number of violations, including possession of marijuana, failure to park off the roadway and failure to report an accident. Police claim the man left the scene of a crash, but he says a friend picked him up after the car he was driving sustained a flat tire.
According to police, the car was partially in the road and unattended when officers arrived. A search of the vehicle ensued, and police claim to have found an undisclosed amount of marijuana. Authorities contacted the registered owner of the vehicle, and she named her son as the driver and gave police his phone number.
The next day, when the man showed up at police headquarters to retrieve his car, he was charged with marijuana and traffic offenses. He reportedly told police that his vehicle left the roadway and got a flat tire after he took a drink of water while driving.
In many cases, drug charges follow warrantless police searches, and illegally obtained evidence must be suppressed. If you are charged with a drug crime after a vehicle search, then a criminal defense attorney can look at the specific factors in your case to determine whether your rights were violated.
Source: New Jersey Herald, “Accident leads to drug charges for Hopatcong man,” July 23, 2014