Orders to Exit Vehicles: Passengers (Part 2)

Central to the court’s analysis in State v. Smith, 134 N.J. 599 (1994), was the fact that normally a passenger will not have committed any motor vehicle violation. Of course, this may not always be the case. There are numerous violations that passengers can commit. For example, failure to wear a seatbelt while seated in the front of a motor vehicle constitutes a violation of New Jersey law. In a similar manner, passengers may be liable under the motor vehicle laws when they, as licensed drivers, permit the operation of a motor vehicle by a person under the age of 17 with an examination permit. Passengers can also be liable for permitting intoxicated drivers to operate a motor vehicle that is either owned or within the custody or control of the passenger. In fact, a passenger who permits his or her motor vehicle to be operated without liability insurance is strictly liable under the state’s compulsory insurance laws.

In those cases in which the passenger has actually committed a motor vehicle offense themselves, it seems that the investigating officer has the power to lawfully order them to exit the vehicle under the Mimms analysis. This was the holding in State v. Legette. This was decided three months after the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Smith, and the court decided that the police could order a passenger to exit a vehicle where he was about to receive a ticket for failure to wear a seatbelt. State v. Legette, 274 N.J. Super 278 (1994).¬†Under the court’s reasoning in Legette, a police officer may order passengers to exit a vehicle whenever the passenger has independently violated a provision of the motor vehicle or criminal laws.