Yesterday the New Jersey Supreme Court [official website] ruled in State v. Al-Sharif Scriven [opinion, PDF] that the use of high beams on an automobile does not present enough reasonable suspicion for a police officer to stop the vehicle. The officer, on foot, had originally stopped the car in which Mr. Scriven was a passenger for supposedly violating a statute that forbids the use of high beams when approaching an oncoming vehicle. The court held that the statute in question [N.J.S.A. 39:3-60, PDF] only applied to vehicles, and that a police officer on foot did not fall under that category. Therefore, the contraband found after a search incident to arrest under N.J.S.A. 39 was held to be inadmissible under the Fourth Amendment [text] to the Constitution.
This ruling comes in a string of incidents relating to police responsibilities, police actions, and the extent to which police may stop a citizen [JURIST reports]. In particular, State v. Scriven comes after the United States Supreme Court [official website] ruled on another Fourth Amendment case, Utah v. Strieff [opinion, PDF], that found that an outstanding arrest warrant counts as an intervening cause to purge evidence found through unlawful police activity of any taint [JURIST report]. In that case the police received an anonymous tip that narcotics were being sold in a house, and the house was put under surveillance for suspicious activity. During the surveillance, a detective stopped Edward Strieff while he was exiting the house to ask some questions. The detective asked for ID and ran a warrant check, which returned a “small traffic warrant.” The detective arrested Strieff and found drug paraphernalia incident to the arrest. Strieff argued that the initial stop was illegal since the detective did not have reasonable suspicion.