Now that we have examined the requirements of a consent search in New Jersey, we must now consider the scope of the consent search once consent is validly given. A police officer conducting a motor vehicle search by consent may search the vehicle as thoroughly as if he or she had a search warrant within the confines of the consent. State v. Santana, 215 N.J. Super 63 (App. Div. 1987). The person granting consent may limit the search both in terms of area and time. Florida v. Jimeno, 500 U.S. 248 (1991). The consent to search may also be withdrawn at any time by the person so consenting. However, should the officer uncover something during the course of a consent search, which gives the officer probable cause to believe evidence of a crime or contraband can be found in the vehicle, the search may continue under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement which I have previously discussed.

If the consent gives the officer permission to search the trunk of the vehicle, the trunk may be searched. However, it must be explicitly understood between the officer and the person giving consent that a search of the trunk is within the scope of the consent given. In State v. Leslie, 338 N.J. Super 269 (App. Div. 2001), the search of the defendant’s trunk was not explicitly stated in the consent and the drugs recovered from the trunk during the search were suppressed. An express, valid consent may also permit the search of closed containers and other areas not easily accessible in the vehicle.

Tags: Consent Searches, Motor Vehicle Stops, Scope of the Search, Traffic Stops, Warrantless Searches