Proposed NJ Law Would Allow New Jersey Police Officers to Search Drivers’ Cell Phones After Accidents

The New Jersey State Senate is considering legislation that would allow police officers to perform a warrantless search of a driver’s cell phone when determining whether the driver was texting or talking at the time of a traffic accident.

Police officers usually ask motorists to present a driver’s license and vehicle registration after an accident. Under current NJ law, an officer would first need to ask for the driver’s consent, apply to a judge for a search warrant, or subpoena the driver’s cell phone service in order to determine if the driver’s phone was being actively used when the accident occurred.

However, because of the rise in cell-phone-related accidents in New Jersey, state legislators believe that police officers need to be able to more easily investigate crashes involving distracted driving. According to the State Division of Highway Traffic Safety, there were more than 1,800 such accidents in New Jersey in 2011, resulting in 807 injuries and six (6) deaths.

Opponents of the proposed legislation are primarily concerned about the effect of the law on citizens’ civil liberties and privacy rights. Allowing police officers to demand drivers’ phones, they say, might violate fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure, particularly because cell phones often contain highly personal information. However, backers of the legislation respond that the law would only allow officers to search drivers’ cell phones when officers have “reasonable grounds” to believe that the law was broken. In fact, using a cell phone while driving is already a violation of New Jersey law. Additionally, officers would be required to return the phone after reviewing the data.

If enacted, the new law could have serious implications for traffic violations in New Jersey, including DWI offenses.

Legal experts believe that the United States Supreme Court’s involvement in this contentious issue is inevitable.

For more information, see the article entitled “‘License, Registration and Cell Phone,’ NJ Cops May Soon Tell Drivers.”

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