Bergen County DWI defense lawyers challenge illegal searches
In New Jersey, as with many other states, it is illegal to drive with an open container of alcohol in the passenger compartment of your car. The fine for a first offense is $200, and a second offense is punishable by a fine of $250 or 10 days of community service. If law enforcement stopped you and discovered an open container, someone in the car is going to be charged. It doesn’t matter if the container belonged to the driver or a passenger; it doesn’t matter if no one consumed alcohol from the container in the car. All that matters is that law enforcement discovered the container during a legal search of the vehicle. At the Law Offices of Richard S. Greenberg, we vigorously defend our clients by challenging police procedures on constitutional grounds, forcing the state to prove that the search was lawful.
How can a driver or passenger in NJ legally transport open containers?
New Jersey law prohibits possession of alcoholic beverage containers with the original seal broken and glasses or cups containing alcohol in the passenger compartment of a car. Safe areas of the car include the:
Space behind the last seat in a trunk-less vehicle
Passenger area of a chartered limousine or bus
Living quarters of a motor-home
Violations result in fines but no license suspension. You should ask your insurance carrier about its policy regarding open container violations.
Restrictions on searches of automobiles in New Jersey
Law enforcement must discover the container during a legal search that follows a legal traffic stop. Examples include:
The officer asks for your license and registration. Looking through the driver’s-side window, the officer sees a half-consumed bottle of wine standing in your cup holder.
You consent to a field sobriety test. An officer pats you down prior to initiating the test and discovers a hip flask.
After you submit to a preliminary breath test, the officer decides to arrest you for DWI. Standing outside your car, the officer shines a flashlight into the passenger compartment and discovers a can of beer on the floor of the back seat.
After finding probable cause to arrest you for DWI, the officer requests a warrant to search the car and finds a partially consumed bottle of alcohol under the driver’s seat.
However, the discovery of an open container may be void if:
The officer made a traffic stop for a discriminatory purpose, such as racial profiling
The officer made an intrusive search of the vehicle without a warrant. This would include ordering you out of the car and immediately rummaging through the passenger compartment, rather than conducting a field sobriety test.
Our attorneys are experienced with challenging police procedures. We regularly use police dash-cam videos and witness-produced cell phone videos to point out irregularities that raise questions regarding the constitutionality of traffic stops and vehicle searches.