Cops Seize Cells In New Jersey after Crash
New Jersey is weighing a controversial bill that would allow police officers to check a driver’s cellphone at the scene of a crash, to see if that motorist was talking on the phone or texting at the time of the accident. If there is evidence of this the cops seize cells as evidence. The Star-Ledger of Newark reported. I think the bill is a good one.
The proposed legislation has been introduced in the state Senate, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey is already questioning its constitutionality. This bill would essentially let police conduct a “search” and “seizure” of a motorist’s property without a warrant, the group argues.
The bill says that to look at a cellphone, police would have to believe that they had “reasonable grounds” to think that a law had been broken, according to The Ledger. The legislation has the support of law enforcement officers.
Distracted driving is a problem in the Garden State. The Ledger cited statistics from the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety: In 2011 there were 1,840 accidents involving hand-held cellphones in Jersey, which led to 807 injuries and six deaths.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. James Holzapfel, told the newspaper that the proposed legislation would help police have at least a chance of determining what was going on at the time of an accident. Once a police officer had looked at the phone or texting, he or she would have to hand it back to the driver.
The ACLU, in turn, argues that the bill tramples of citizens’ privacy rights, and permits searches without proving probable cause, The Ledger reported.
New Jersey law professors are already predicting that the state Supreme Court will eventually have to address the legal issues raised by the bill.
This legislation would aid state and federal officials who are trying to crack-down on distracted driving, and enforce laws against motorists texting. If there is a crash, there is probable cause that a crime may have been committed. As The Ledger story pointed out, a police officer doesn’t need a search warrant to confiscate an open bottle of spirits.
That kind of legal logic should apply to cellphones, as well.