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Police Performing Warrantless Cellphone Searches After Car Crashes? Yep, There’s a Bill for That

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Police Performing Warrantless Cellphone Searches After Car Crashes? Yep, There’s a Bill for That
[ Technology]

Hey guys, meet my new favorite terrible state bill.

Narrowly beating out the Internet Posting Removal Act, an Illinois bill that’ll make your head spin, comes a bill to modify New Jersey state law to permit police officers to confiscate and search a driver’s cellphone when they are involved in an accident – simply if they feel the accident may have been caused by texting/talking while driving.

The bill, SB 2783, was proposed by Republican Senator James W. Holzapfel – a former lawyer who served as a county prosecutor.

Here’s the actual text from the bill:

(New section) Whenever an operator of a motor vehicle has been involved in an accident resulting in death, bodily injury, or property damage, a police officer who reports to the scene of the accident may confiscate the operator’s hand-held wireless telephone if, after considering the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident, the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the operator involved in the accident was operating a hand-held wireless telephone while driving a motor vehicle in violation of section 1 of P.L.2003, c.310 (C.39:4-97.3).

Upon confiscating the telephone, the police officer may review the hand-held wireless telephone’s call history data in order to determine whether the motor vehicle operator was in violation of section 1 of P.L.2003, c.310 (C.39:4-97.3) at the time of the accident. After reviewing the call history data, the law enforcement officer shall return the hand-held wireless telephone to the motor vehicle operator. Any information contained in the call history data that indicates that the motor vehicle operator was in violation of section 1 of P.L.2003, c.310 (C.39:4-97.3) shall be included in the police report in accordance with R.S.39:4-131.

FYI, any mention of “P.L.2003, c.310 (C.39:4-97.3)” refers to the statue banning to use of wireless devices (non-hand-free) while operating a motor vehicle in the state of New Jersey.

With the overbroad “accident resulting in death, bodily injury, or property damage” clause, you can already see the abuse of power. Look closely. Can you see it? I’m no alarmist or anything, but when the police can, without a warrant, browse the contents of my iPhone with no restrictions just because I happened to get in a fender bender – call me crazy, but that doesn’t take me to my happy place.

The ACLU of New Jersey has already said that this bill doesn’t come close to passing constitutional muster:

“Our State and Federal Constitutions generally require probable cause before authorizing a search, particularly when it comes to areas that contain highly personal information such as cellphones,” said Alexander Shalom of the ACLU-NJ. “The legislature cannot authorize searches unless there is probable cause, therefore the bill is likely susceptible to a constitutional challenge.”

That’s putting it nicely.

The bill was introduced on May 20th and has yet to see any additional action. It’s been referred to the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee – which I truly hope is code for “the nearest trash can.”

Police Performing Warrantless Cellphone Searches After Car Crashes? Yep, There’s a Bill for That


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  • Name

    What did everyone think the government would not follow through with the details of the Patriot Acts? This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The US is fast becoming a police state. Everyone knows it. Worse yet – everyone can FEEL it.

    You can be arrested for anything in this country and once arrested, more than likely you will be convicted. How people think our court system works and how it actually does is two separate things. Our incarceration rate is now higher than that of Russia under Stalin. For those that do not know, that was the Gulag system under Stalin. Don’t take my word for it. Start researching incarceration statistics.

    The bottom line is that this is only going to get worse. You saw what happened in Boston after the bombing. Martial law was pretty much imposed and police, who looked like an invading military force, took over. The only way the US will ever fall is from within. Unfortunately, that is what is happening. I am normally not an alarmist, but this is only going to get worse.

  • William

    The thing this article seems to be overlooking is that the entire first paragraph of the proposed law specifically requires probable cause before the phone is taken and checked: “.. after considering the facts and circumstances surrounding the accident, the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the operator … was operating a hand-held wireless telephone while driving.”

    I am not a lawyer, but to my interpretation, this law takes the existing principle of an officer smelling alcohol on the breath of a driver in an accident having probable cause to search the vehicle for an open container or doing a breathalyzer test, and applies it to a cell phone. If the law allowed officers to arbitrarily check the cell phone of anyone involved in an accident, I could see the problem, but as far as I can tell this is simply codifying an application of probable cause.

    • Name

      I can tell you haven’t been around many cops.

      In the real world: Probable Cause = Any Cause.

  • http://www.ssrichardmontgomery.com ron

    Years ago I knew a pilot whose father was a prominent lawyer in the states. The guy always carried a business card of Nixon’s lawyer in his wallet next to his drivers licence. when stopped for traffic violation or other and asked for id made sure officer saw card. never had any problems… the equivalent now would be to have telephone numbers of prominent well known law firms clearly labelled in your phone which the officers would see, will they call your bluff and is it a bluff…

  • http://www.onlinetv.com Randy Penn

    That’s government, make laws that are unlawful until someone sues them making the laws illegal. Legal and lawful are always two different things and once a law is found to be illegal it is made to “never have existed.” Just like the law to spy on all of the world, it is not lawful but it is legal because they passed secret laws making it so. Once sued and shown their crimes they just erase the laws as if they never existed and these days no one is charged with the crimes against the people.

  • http://cpbay.com/ jameyhsu

    this is not good !I am not a lawyer, but to my interpretation, this law takes the existing principle of an officer smelling alcohol on the breath of a driver in an accident having probable cause to search the vehicle for an open container or doing a breathalyzer test.

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