The New Jersey Supreme Court overturned one of its earlier rulings this week, making it easier for police officers to search a car during an unplanned traffic stop.
State police officers on a stop will need to show probable cause that they believed the car contained contraband or evidence of a crime.
The 6-year-old rule overturned this week forced officers to obtain a search warrant before they could look around inside the car, which a study found left some officers on the side of the road for hours awaiting permission.
“That was actually more dangerous, standing out there by the highway waiting for a ruling on a warrant, than just maybe authorizing a search,” said Rutgers law professor Robert Williams, an expert on the New Jersey Constitution.
The decision also highlights the willingness of the high court to revisit its own rulings after they can be tested in the real world, according to Williams.
“It shows an open mind on the court,” he said. “The court is willing to re-evaluate the decisions it makes and to try to make a judgment of whether they really are effective to protect people’s rights or rather do more harm than good.”
Williams said the standard is still higher than in other states and, without question, more rigorous than the federal standard for an automobile search, which says the probable cause for the initial stop is enough to investigate the car’s interior.