State v. Nelson

The ACLU-NJ filed a friend-of-the-court brief in this policing case, which addresses when police may conduct a canine sniff of the exterior of an automobile. In this case, the defendant was pulled over based on an anonymous tip (which included as the only description of the driver that he would be a “Black male”), as well as pretextual traffic violations (including following a car too closely on the Turnpike). The officers then detained defendant for an extra 37 minutes while they called for and obtained a canine unit. This is the first case in which the New Jersey Supreme Court was called upon to apply its ruling aligning the state law standard for canine sniffs with the federal standard. In its brief, the ACLU-NJ argued, first, that the canine sniff was not justified on the basis of traffic violations, because the law prohibits a canine sniff from adding time to a stop and this one added 37 minutes. Second, the ACLU-NJ argued that the canine sniff was not justified on the basis of independent reasonable suspicion, because officers confirmed only innocent details related to the anonymous tip and because a Black man’s nervousness when stopped by the police is not necessarily indicative of criminal activity. Finally, the ACLU-NJ reminded the Court about the abundance of risks related to pretextual traffic stops, including as an invitation for racial profiling, and encouraged the Court not to countenance such pretext-based practices here.

Status

The case is pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court.

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