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State v. Jones

Decided: July 11, 1984.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JAMES G. JONES, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County.

J. H. Coleman and Brody. The opinion of the court was delivered by Coleman, J.h., J.A.D.

Coleman

We granted the State leave to appeal from an order suppressing evidence seized from an automobile without a warrant. For the reasons which follow, we affirm the order under review.

On October 22, 1983, defendant was the operator of a two-door Toyota automobile which overturned on Route 22 westbound Mountainside, New Jersey. The automobile was resting on its roof. Mountainside Police Officer Olock and a Union County police officer were able to extricate defendant from the automobile by prying open the driver's door.

While defendant was standing outside of the automobile which was still resting on its roof, Officer Olock asked defendant to produce his driving credentials. Defendant produced his driver's license. He indicated that the registration and insurance card were inside the automobile. Defendant received minor lacerations and abrasions that were treated by a rescue squad.

After a tow truck operator restored the automobile to its normal position, Officer Olock proceeded to enter the driver's door to search for evidence of ownership and the insurance card. The interior of the automobile was in a state of total

disarray as papers were all over the front seat and other items were over the backseat. As Officer Olock began leaning into the automobile through the driver's door, he observed a leather overnight toiletry case on the backseat. The bag was unzippered and was open. While still leaning into the automobile, he observed a vial inside the case which contained a white powdery substance and a mirror as well as a razor blade. He suspected that the powdery substance was cocaine. After Officer Olock seized the suspected cocaine, defendant was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance.

Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized pursuant to R. 3:5-7. Officer Olock was the only witness to testify. The trial judge granted the motion. The State now appeals contending that the evidence fell in the plain view of Officer Olock who had a right to enter the automobile to search for evidence of ownership and the insurance card.

It is undisputed that the police officer was obligated to make an accident report required by N.J.S.A. 39:4-131. In order to properly make out that report, the police needed to see defendant's driver's license, registration and insurance card. Also, it is undisputed that N.J.S.A. 39:3-29 requires that the operator of an automobile must be in possession of a driver's license, the registration to the motor vehicle, and an insurance identification card. The crucial issue in the case, therefore, becomes whether the police officer had a right to enter the car to search for the registration and insurance card before affording defendant a reasonable opportunity to obtain them from the vehicle himself.

As was observed in State v. Boykins, 50 N.J. 73, 77 (1967), where there has been a traffic violation and the operator of the motor vehicle is unable to produce proof of registration, a police officer may search the car for evidence of ownership. However, in State v. Patino, 83 N.J. 1, 12 (1980), it was made clear that a search for evidence of ownership must be "confined to the glove compartment or other area where a registration

might normally be kept in a vehicle. . . ." (Quoting State v. Barrett, 170 N.J. Super. ...


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