The Automobile Exception to the Warrant Requirement

There are several exceptions to the requirement that the police obtain a warrant to search an area such as a house or a vehicle. One of these exceptions that I have previously discussed is the plain view doctrine. Another exception to the requirement that the police obtain a warrant is the automobile exception. Article 1, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution has often been interpreted by the New Jersey Supreme Court to provide more protection in various aspects of arrest, search, and seizure law than does the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. This is the case with regard to the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. Under federal law, the Court requires merely that probable cause exists to believe that a vehicle contains evidence of a crime. Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938. If this is the case, there is sufficient justification to conduct a search without a warrant.

This view is not shared by the New Jersey Supreme Court. In State v. Cooke, the court ruled that Article I, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution requires a finding of both probable cause and exigent circumstances in order to support a warrantless search under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. The exigent circumstances must make it impractical that the police obtain a valid search warrant.