N.J. bill would allow police to search cell phones after crashes

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New legislation making its way through the New Jersey State Senate would allow police officers to search the cell phones of those involved in car accidents without a warrant, The Star-Ledger reported Monday.

The bill would allow officers to page through motorists’ cell phones to determine if they were distracted while driving.


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“Think about it: The chances of the cop witnessing the accident are slim to none,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. James Holzapfel. “He’s dispatched, and by the time he gets there — unless they’re unconscious and the phone is in their hands, or some passenger says they were on the phone — then he’s got to do what? Subpoena the service to see if the phone was actively used or not?”

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has already spoken out in opposition to the measure, saying it is “likely susceptible to a constitutional challenge,” The Star-Ledger reported.

“This bill is problematic because it infringes on the privacy rights of citizens,” said Alexander Shalom, the ACLU’s state policy counsel. “Our state and federal constitutions generally require probable cause before authorizing a search, particularly when it comes to areas that contain highly personal information such as cell phones.”

Mr. Holzapfel said he knows the legislation could face a legal challenge.

“To me, is it any different from an open bottle of liquor? It may be an issue. But keep in mind that operating a vehicle is a privilege, not a right,” he told The Star-Ledger.

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