Orders to Exit Vehicles: Drivers

There is a distinction in New Jersey between orders by a law enforcement officer for operators and passengers of a vehicle to exit the vehicle during a motor vehicle stop. With respect to operators of a motor vehicle, New Jersey follows the federal position that police are free to use their discretion to order a driver from the vehicle during the course of a motor vehicle stop. This comes from the federal case of Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977). Critical to this United States Supreme Court decision is the concerns for issues of officer safety during traffic stops. Weighing the potential for death or bodily injury to police during traffic stops against the inconvenience to motorists, the court found that the intrusion can only be described as de minimis (minimal). Essentially, this decision creates a bright line rule that police may require drivers to exit their vehicles during a motor vehicle stop without any justification.

With respect to drivers, the New Jersey Supreme Court has found this decision to be consistent with the New Jersey Constitution. In State v. Smith, the court that that the Mimms test is constitutional under the New Jersey Constitution. State v. Smith, 134 N.J. 599 (1994). The Court adopted the reasoning of the USSC and found that, in contrast to the minimal intrustion on a person’s privacy, a police officer’s safety is greatly enhanced when an officer can order a driver out of the car.