On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Warren County, Indictment No. 11-04-001114.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 19, 2012
Before Judges Reisner and Hoffman.
By leave granted, the State appeals from an August 11, 2011 Law Division order suppressing evidence, illegal drugs, seized during a warrantless search of defendant's motor vehicle following a one-vehicle accident. The State argues that under the circumstances presented, the search was reasonable. We disagree, and affirm.
According to the State's proofs, on the morning of October 9, 2010, defendant Joshua Eastman had a one-vehicle accident while operating his pickup truck in White Township, Warren County. The truck rolled on its roof and into a telephone pole, exposing live electrical wires across the roadway.
New Jersey State Trooper Michael Ferrara responded to the scene. After securing the area from traffic, Trooper Ferrara located defendant, who was speaking with emergency personnel from the first-aid squad. When asked for his driving credentials, defendant said the documents were in his truck, which was inaccessible. When asked what happened, defendant explained he swerved to avoid a deer and must have over-corrected.
Upon the trooper observing that defendant was shaky, and had constricted pupils with track marks on his arm, defendant was administered field sobriety tests. Based upon the test results, Trooper Ferrara concluded defendant had operated his vehicle under the influence of drugs and placed him under arrest. Another trooper transported defendant to the Washington Barracks while Trooper Ferrara remained at the scene awaiting the arrival of the utility crew to cut the power to the downed wires.
About a half-hour later, the vehicle became accessible. When Trooper Ferrara approached defendant's truck he found a wallet on the ground. He opened it and found defendant's driver's license, but no insurance card or registration. Because he needed these other documents to properly complete his accident report, Trooper Ferrara searched defendant's glove compartment where he found not only defendant's credentials but also what appeared to be illegal drugs in plain view. Laboratory analysis later confirmed the substance to be cocaine. Following his indictment for one count of possession of a controlled dangerous substance, defendant moved to suppress the evidence claiming the search was illegal.
Under the New Jersey and United States Constitutions, warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively invalid. State v. Pineiro, 181 N.J. 13, 19 (2004). In the absence of a warrant, the State bears the burden of demonstrating that the search falls within one of the few defined exceptions to the warrant requirement. State v. Maryland, 167 N.J. 471, 482 (2001).
The constitutional protections prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures "impose a standard of reasonableness on the exercise of discretion by government officials to protect persons against arbitrary invasions." State v. Maristany, 133 N.J. 299, 304 (1993). "Indeed, the touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness." State v. Bruzzese, 94 N.J. 210, 217 (1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1030, 104 S. Ct. 1295, 79 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1984).
Although there is a lessened expectation of privacy attendant to the interior of an automobile, in the absence of one of the recognized exceptions to the constitutional requirement of probable cause and a warrant, the evidence seized ...