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In an Accident? Retrieve Your Own Credentials

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In March 2009, Duran Keaton was in an accident that caused his car to roll over and remain overturned on a median. As he was being treated by EMS for his minor injuries, a trooper arrived at the scene and entered Mr. Keaton’s vehicle through the rear driver-side window to retrieve Mr. Keaton’s registration and insurance information. The trooper did so without requesting permission to enter the vehicle, or indeed, without speaking with Mr. Keaton at all. While in the vehicle, the trooper saw a gun in an open backpack and a small bag of marijuana near the dashboard. Thus, the trooper arrested Mr. Keaton.

Mr. Keaton challenged the trooper’s search, claiming that the trooper had unlawfully entered his vehicle to retrieve his credentials. The State rebutted, arguing, among other things, that the trooper required the information to complete an accident report.

The case ultimately went to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which determined that the trooper did not have the right to enter Mr. Keaton’s vehicle. The Court held that a police officer is required to provide a person with the opportunity to present his or her credentials prior to entering the vehicle. If that person is unwilling or unable to produce the registration and insurance information, only then may an officer conduct a search for those credentials.