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NJ Court Limits Police Body Searches

April 24, 2002
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NJ Court Limits Police Body Searches

New York Times

TRENTON, NJ — Police officers must feel endangered or have a firm legal basis to do a body search, the State Supreme Court said Wednesday, ruling in two cases.

The first involved Derek Roach, who was stopped by the police for having a malfunctioning headlight and an invalid inspection sticker.

Officers had the right to search Mr. Roach's pockets because he was acting erratically and repeatedly reached down despite warnings to keep his hands up, the justices ruled unanimously. The decision overturned an appellate ruling.

"The officers were faced with a nervous and intoxicated person who refused to obey their lawful orders and continued to move his hands toward the unidentified bulge," Justice Virginia Long wrote. "That erratic behavior justified the officers' further action to neutralize any potential threat," the decision stated.

Inside Mr. Roach's pocket, the police found a plastic bag stuffed with cocaine and heroin. The ruling allows Mr. Roach's case to go to trial.

But the court ruled in a second case that unusual behavior alone was not enough to allow the police to conduct a full body search on a suspect arrested for minor offenses.

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