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Study Finds Newark Police Violating Constitutional Rights

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice has revealed patterns of unconstitutional behavior by the Newark Police Department. Many of these constitutional violations deal with illegal searches and seizures, such as when a police officer enters a premises without a search warrant or probable cause.

Newark residents are beginning to take action, as many of them file civil rights cases against the city for the constitutional infringements. These cases include unlawful pedestrian stops, use of excessive force and illegal searches. The study showed that in 75 percent of the police reports concerning these cases, officers failed to outline a constitutionally adequate reason for the search or seizure.

African Americans were disproportionately targeted, making up 85 percent of pedestrian stops and nearly 80 percent of arrests, despite the fact that they account for only 54 percent of the population of Newark. Racial profiling cases can be difficult for plaintiffs to win, however, as they must prove intentional discrimination on the part of an officer. Without an admission of guilt from an officer or some other incriminating evidence, this can be a difficult allegation to prove.

It is important for New Jersey residents to understand their rights when it comes to searches and seizures. In most cases, if an officer comes to your door and asks to conduct a search of your person or premises, you have every right to say no. The same applies to traffic stops. While many officers can be intimidating or fail to advise you of your right to decline the search, it is still within your constitutional rights to decline.

Conversely, in certain cases an officer may conduct a search even if you do not consent. If a law enforcement agent has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, he or she may conduct a search of your automobile or home — this is known as probable cause. Additionally, if contraband is in plain view (or plain smell) of an officer, he or she has a right to search and seize this evidence.

Finally, an officer who reasonably suspects a crime is taking place may obtain a search warrant from a judicial body, legally permitting him or her to search an individual, home or automobile. The officer must articulate to the judge the reasonable belief that a crime has or is about to be committed. The search warrant may be limited in scope and allow officers to search only specified areas or persons related to the alleged crime.

While officers have a right to search people and property under certain circumstances, cases like what happened in Newark are not entirely unusual. Officers occasionally step over the line and violate citizens’ constitutional rights. If you believe you were the victim of an illegal search or seizure in New Jersey, seek professional guidance and support from a criminal defense lawyer.