Thursday, October 01, 2015
Emergency aid exception permitted police to act. State v. Hathaway ___NJ ___ 2015 (A-69-13 )
Viewing the events as they appeared to an objectively reasonable police officer, and based on the evidence presented by the State at the suppression hearing, the police acted within the scope of the emergency-aid exception to the warrant requirement, and the gun should not have been suppressed.
Argued February 2, 2015 -- Decided August 4, 2015
ALBIN, J., writing for a unanimous Court.
In this appeal, the Court determines whether the warrantless search of a room in a casino hotel, where the police reasonably believed an armed robbery had recently occurred, violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution.
Defendant Dontae Hathaway was charged with second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon following the discovery of a handgun in his room at the Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Defendant moved to suppress the gun, arguing that its discovery was the product of an unconstitutional search. At the suppression hearing, Officer James Armstrong of the Atlantic City Police Department testified that, on March 28, 2012, while providing additional security at the Taj Mahal, he was called to the casino security podium. Several security officers conveyed that an unidentified hotel patron, who was no longer present at the podium, had reported that two black males robbed him at gunpoint in a room on the 70th floor.
Officer Armstrong did not believe that he had time to walk to the surveillance department and review footage from the alleged robbery. Instead, he asked the security team to have the department confirm the patron’s report. While awaiting a response, he requested assistance from the police department’s special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team. About five minutes later, a four-member SWAT team arrived, and Officer Armstrong was told that video footage showed the unidentified patron on an elevator with a white male, a black male, and two females. The elevator stopped on the 70th floor, the five individuals proceeded to Room 7023, and the unidentified patron later left in what appeared to be a panicked state. Concerned that there could be an armed gunman in the casino or barricaded in the room, possibly with hostages or victims, Officer Armstrong, the SWAT team, and casino security officers set themselves up outside Room 7023. When calls to the room, via telephone and orally through the slightly open door, went unanswered, the officers entered with guns drawn. They found neither victims nor a gunman. However, an open duffel bag was on a cabinet by the bed, in which an automatic black Beretta handgun was readily visible. Security determined that the room was registered to defendant, whose name was found on documents inside the bag.
After hearing Officer Armstrong’s testimony, the trial court reviewed over an hour’s worth of video footage, noting several inconsistencies between it and the information conveyed to Officer Armstrong. The court asserted that Officer Armstrong should have viewed the footage himself prior to taking action. It also deemed the unidentified patron’s report unreliable, and found that Officer Armstrong improperly relied on hearsay filtered through untrained security personnel. The court further reasoned that the open hotel room door suggested that a person had left the room and would return soon, and not that a gunman may have been hiding inside. Consequently, the court determined that the officers lacked probable cause or a reasonable suspicion or articulable belief to conclude that there was an ongoing crime or victims in the room. It found that no exigency excused the officers’ failure to apply for a warrant, which may have been obtained telephonically within half an hour.
The State moved for leave to appeal, and the Appellate Division affirmed the suppression. The panel agreed that the unverified information reported by the alleged victim was insufficient to establish probable cause. It noted that Officer Armstrong failed to corroborate the report and relied on what was ultimately discovered to be an inaccurate description of the surveillance footage. The panel concluded that the State did not demonstrate exigent circumstances sufficient to justify the search, noting that the room could have been secured while a telephonic warrant was obtained. The Court granted the State’s motion for leave to appeal. 217 N.J. 289 (2014).
HELD: Viewing the events as they appeared to an objectively reasonable police officer, and based on the evidence presented by the State at the suppression hearing, the police acted within the scope of the emergency-aid exception to the warrant requirement, and the gun should not have been suppressed.
1. In order to determine whether the search of defendant’s hotel room comported with the dictates of both the Federal and State Constitutions, the Court asks whether the trial court applied the proper legal principles governing New Jersey’s search and seizure jurisprudence and whether its factual findings are supported by the record. Legal matters are reviewed de novo, while factual findings are entitled to deference and must be upheld when supported by sufficient credible evidence in the record. (pp. 13-14)
2. Police are generally required to secure a warrant prior to conducting a search. Searches conducted without a warrant are presumptively invalid. The State bears the burden of demonstrating that a warrantless search is justified by one of the few exceptions to the warrant requirement, such as the exigent circumstances exception, which is applicable when officers do not have sufficient time to obtain a warrant in light of the urgent circumstances confronting them. Here, the Court focuses on the emergency-aid doctrine, which is a subset of the exigent circumstances exception. (pp. 14-16)
3. In order to justify a warrantless search under the emergency-aid doctrine, the State must satisfy a two-prong test, showing that: (1) the officer had an objectively reasonable basis to believe that an emergency required the provision of immediate assistance to protect or preserve life, or to prevent serious injury; and (2) there was a reasonable nexus between the emergency and the place searched. When assessing the reasonableness of an officer’s decision, courts must view events in real time, rather than through the context provided by hindsight, recognizing that those who must act in the heat of the moment do not have the luxury of lengthy deliberation. Moreover, officers need only reasonably believe, not be certain, that a danger exists requiring prompt action. The scope of the search under the emergency-aid doctrine is limited to the reasons prompting the search. (pp. 16-18)
4. The applicability of the emergency-aid doctrine in this case largely depends on whether Officer Armstrong had a reasonable basis to credit the unidentified patron’s report as conveyed by security personnel. An objectively reasonable police officer may assume that an ordinary citizen reporting a crime is providing reliable information, which does not lose its reliability when passed from one law enforcement officer to another. A review of New Jersey jurisprudence shows that, when determining whether exigent circumstances exist, the police may rely on information that may be classified as hearsay in a courtroom setting. The ultimate test is whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer’s actions were objectively reasonable given the nature of the information at hand. Here, the unidentified patron did not affirmatively attempt to hide his identity, and Officer Armstrong was capable of gauging the reliability of the security personnel who conveyed the report. Moreover, Officer Armstrong did not take the report at face value, instead seeking confirmation of the allegations from the surveillance department. Given the information available, and within the time constraints pressed on him by the report of a gunman on the loose in the Taj Mahal, Officer Armstrong had no objectively reasonable basis to doubt the veracity of the report. (pp. 18-26)
5. Applying the two-prong test of the emergency-aid doctrine, the Court first asks whether Officer Armstrong had an objectively reasonable basis to believe that an emergency required that he provide immediate assistance in order to protect or preserve life, or to prevent serious injury. The Court finds that the trial court, which improperly viewed the events through the prism of hindsight rather than as they were unfolding, erred as a matter of law in dismissing the unidentified patron’s report as unreliable. Officer Armstrong could not ignore the report of an armed robbery, a potential grave danger to public safety, because the patron was unavailable for questioning. In the heat of the moment, based on seemingly reliable information, Officer Armstrong acted in an objectively reasonable manner. Moreover, given the totality of the circumstances, it was reasonable to infer that Room 7023 contained an incapacitated victim or a hidden gunman. Consequently, the second prong of the emergency-aid doctrine test was met because there was a reasonable nexus between the emergency and the search. Thus, the officers were not obligated to obtain a warrant prior to entering the room. Although the scope of the search was limited to looking for possible victims and the gunman, the handgun was in plain view, rendering its seizure lawful. (pp. 26-30)
6. In light of the trial court’s misapplication of the law governing exigent circumstances, which resulted in a number of clearly mistaken factual findings, the Appellate Division’s affirmance of the suppression must be reversed. The trial court’s decision was based on the State’s presentation alone, relieving the defense of the need to call any witnesses. On remand, defendant may call witnesses to show that the State did not meet its burden. The trial court must make factual findings based on all of the credible evidence. (pp. 30-31)
The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Friday, September 25, 2015
A request for a civil reservation in municipal court must be made in open court. Maida v. Kuskin 221 N.J. 112 (N.J. 2015)
A request for a civil reservation in municipal court must be made in open court. Maida v. Kuskin 221 N.J. 112 (N.J. 2015)
A request for a civil reservation in municipal court must be made in open court and contemporaneously with the court’s acceptance of defendant’s guilty plea. If the prosecutor or the victim demonstrates good cause, or the charge to which a defendant pleads guilty does not arise out of the same occurrence that is the subject of the civil proceeding, a civil reservation order may not be entered. Bruce Maida v. Michael Kuskin (A-50-13) (073427)
Decided March 19, 2015
CUFF, P.J.A.D. (temporarily assigned), writing for a unanimous Court.
In this appeal, the Court considers the circumstances under which a defendant can request a civil reservation. A civil reservation is a municipal court practice that permits a municipal court judge to order that a guilty plea not be used as evidence in any related civil proceeding.
The Maidas subsequently filed a complaint seeking damages. They claimed that plaintiff suffered serious injuries requiring multiple surgical procedures and that his wife suffered severe and permanent emotional distress from witnessing the accident. Defendant filed an answer in which he denied that he was negligent and, in response to an interrogatory, asserted that “there was no accident.” The Maidas filed a motion to strike the civil reservation that the municipal court had entered. The trial court initially denied their motion, but then reconsidered and granted the motion. The trial court opined that a civil reservation, as authorized by Rule 7:6-2(a)(1) of the Rules of Court Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey (Rules), must be requested in open court at the time the guilty plea is entered. Finding that had not occurred in this case, the trial court permitted use of the guilty plea at trial.
In an unpublished decision, a panel of the Appellate Division reversed. The panel determined that Rule 7:6-2(a)(1) does not require that the request for a civil reservation be made in open court at the time the guilty plea is accepted. Surmising that the civil reservation was a material aspect of the guilty plea, the panel suggested that the trial judge should have permitted defendant to withdraw his plea. In addition, the panel held that a civil reservation should be granted as a matter of course any time after entry of the plea, unless there is an objection. The panel further observed that there were other reasons to exclude the guilty plea here, including: 1) the absence of a factual basis provided by defendant, 2) the prejudicial impact of a guilty plea, and 3) the absence of any probative value of the guilty plea to a central issue in this case, which was whether a motor vehicle accident occurred at all. This Court granted the Maidas’ petition for certification. Maida v. Kuskin, 217 N.J. 50 (2014).
HELD: A request for a civil reservation in municipal court must be made in open court and contemporaneously with the court’s acceptance of defendant’s guilty plea. If the prosecutor or the victim demonstrates good cause, or the charge to which a defendant pleads guilty does not arise out of the same occurrence that is the subject of the civil proceeding, a civil reservation order may not be entered.
1. Defendant pled guilty to one of the more than 2 million non-DWI traffic cases filed in the municipal courts of this State in 2010. The Rules, particularly Part 7, address all facets of municipal court practice. Rule 7:6-2(a)(1) permits a municipal court judge to accept a guilty plea, but the judge may not do so without first addressing the defendant personally, determining that the plea is made voluntarily with understanding of the nature of the charge and the consequences of the plea, and determining that there is a factual basis for the plea. If a civil complaint has been filed, or one is anticipated, the court may, on defendant’s request, order that the plea not be used as evidence in a civil proceeding. R. 7:6-2(a)(1). Guilty pleas that do not follow this basic structure are subject to reversal. A municipal court order indicating that the plea not be evidential in any civil proceeding is entered as a matter of course unless the prosecutor or the victim objects. If the prosecutor or victim objects to a civil reservation or non-evidential order, the objecting party must show good cause for withholding the order.
2. State v. Haulaway, Inc., 257 N.J. Super. 506 (App. Div. 1992), provides guidance on what constitutes good cause to support entry or denial of a civil reservation. In Haulaway, defendants entered guilty pleas with knowledge that the State would object to entry of a civil reservation order. The Appellate Division determined that good cause did not exist to support the civil reservations defendants requested because they pled guilty knowing that the State might object to a no-civil-use order and without conditioning their pleas on the entry of such an order. Similarly, this Court addressed the admissibility of a guilty plea to careless driving in a subsequent civil proceeding. Eaton v. Eaton, 119 N.J. 628 (1990). There, the driver of a car involved in a single-car accident pled guilty to careless driving without an appearance in municipal court. A passenger in the car died from injuries suffered in the crash. In the wrongful death action, the driver contended that her guilty plea to careless driving was not admissible. This Court disagreed and emphasized that a guilty plea is only evidence of negligence and certainly “not conclusive proof of the facts underlying the offense.” Absent a properly entered civil reservation, a person who enters a guilty plea to a traffic offense may be confronted with the factual basis for it in a civil action arising from the same occurrence that triggered the issuance of the motor vehicle charge. If a person contested the charge, a conviction following a trial is not admissible because the contesting defendant never admitted guilt.
3. Here, defendant was charged with an offense that requires a person involved in a motor vehicle accident in which someone is injured to file a written report within ten days of the accident. The report is forwarded to the Motor Vehicle Commission, but neither the report, nor any statement contained in the report, is admissible as evidence in a subsequent proceeding for any purpose other than to establish the fact that the report was submitted. The fact of filing, filing late, or not filing at all has no bearing on the issue of negligence in a subsequent civil proceeding and is, therefore, inadmissible in any such proceeding.
4. In sum, a guilty plea to a traffic offense that occurs in open court must be accompanied by a factual statement given by the defendant. A person who pleads guilty to a traffic offense may request an order that prevents admission of the plea in any civil proceeding arising from the same occurrence that precipitated the motor vehicle charge and that request must occur in open court. The prosecutor or a person injured in the accident may object to such an order, but must demonstrate good cause to bar entry thereof. If good cause is demonstrated, or the charge to which a defendant pleads guilty does not arise out of the same occurrence that is the subject of the civil proceeding, a civil reservation order may not be entered. Further, such an order should not be entered when the conduct encompassed by the traffic offense bears no relation to the subsequent civil proceeding. Finally, if the guilty plea is entered without a court appearance, a defendant may not pursue a civil reservation order.
5. The municipal court proceeding in this appeal suffered from several flaws. Contrary to Rule 7:6-2(a)(1), defendant pled guilty to a motor vehicle charge without providing a factual basis. That precluded the municipal court from determining whether the plea was knowing and voluntary and whether it was factually supported. Further, the civil reservation order should not have been entered after the close of the municipal court proceedings because the request must be made in open court and contemporaneously with the plea. Moreover, here the municipal court judge entered a civil reservation order for a motor vehicle offense that would have been inadmissible in any civil proceeding based on the same occurrence because whether a person files the report of the accident required by the statute bears no relevance to whether the charged person operated a motor vehicle in a negligent manner on the day of the alleged incident, or operated a motor vehicle at all. 6. The Court disapproves of the Appellate Division’s ruling that a civil reservation need not be requested contemporaneously with the entry of the plea. The Court affirms, however, because whether a person submits a report of a motor vehicle accident timely, belatedly, or not at all bears no relevance to the issue of negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
State v. Witt __ NJ __ (2015)
State v. William L. Witt (A-9-14) (074468)
Argued April 14, 2014 -- Decided September 24, 2015
ALBIN, J., writing for a majority of the Court.
The exigent-circumstances standard set forth in Pena-Flores is unsound in principle and unworkable in practice. Citing Article I, Paragraph 7 of New Jersey’s State Constitution, the Court returns to the standard articulated in State v. Alston, 88 N.J. 211 (1981), for warrantless searches of automobiles based on probable cause: The automobile exception authorizes the warrantless search of an automobile only when the police have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of an offense and the circumstances giving rise to probable cause are unforeseeable and spontaneous.
In this appeal, the Court addresses the constitutional standard governing an automobile search and considers whether to continue to follow the standard set forth in State v. Pena-Flores, 198 N.J. 6 (2009).
Defendant William L. Witt was charged in an indictment with second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and second-degree possession of a weapon by a convicted person. The police initiated a stop of defendant’s car because he did not dim his high beams when necessary, and a search of his vehicle uncovered the handgun.
Defendant moved to suppress the gun on the ground that the police conducted an unreasonable search in violation of the New Jersey Constitution. Defendant’s sole argument was that the police did not have exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless search of his car under Pena-Flores. At the suppression hearing, Officer Racite testified that at approximately 2:00 a.m., while providing backup for a motor-vehicle stop, he observed a car pass with its high beams on.
The officer explained that a car must dim its high beams “as vehicles approach.” Thus, Officer Racite stopped the vehicle, and requested backup. Defendant, the driver, appeared intoxicated and was asked to exit his car. Defendant then failed field-sobriety and balance tests, and Officer Racite arrested him for driving while intoxicated. Defendant was handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car. While Officer Racite searched defendant’s vehicle for “intoxicants,” he found a handgun in the center console. With Pena-Flores as its guide, the trial court found as follows: the officer had a right to stop defendant’s car based on an “unexpected” occurrence and had probable cause to search for an open container of alcohol, but did not have “sufficient exigent circumstances” to conduct a warrantless search. Accordingly, the court suppressed the handgun.
The Appellate Division granted the State’s motion for leave to appeal and affirmed the suppression of the gun “because of the utter absence of any exigency to support the warrantless vehicle search that occurred,” and “because there was no justification for this motor vehicle stop.” 435 N.J. Super. 608, 610-11 (App. Div. 2014). The panel declined to address the State’s argument that the exigent-circumstances test in Pena-Flores “should be replaced because it has proved to be unworkable and has led to unintended negative consequences,” explaining that, as an intermediate appellate court, it had no authority to replace Pena-Flores with some other legal principles.
The panel also agreed with defendant’s argument, raised for the first time on appeal, that Officer Racite did not have a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop defendant because the relevant statute (N.J.S.A. 39:3-60) requires drivers to dim their high beams only when approaching an oncoming vehicle within 500 feet.
The Court granted the State’s motion for leave to appeal.
HELD: The exigent-circumstances standard set forth in Pena-Flores is unsound in principle and unworkable in practice. Citing Article I, Paragraph 7 of New Jersey’s State Constitution, the Court returns to the standard articulated in State v. Alston, 88 N.J. 211 (1981), for warrantless searches of automobiles based on probable cause: The automobile exception authorizes the warrantless search of an automobile only when the police have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of an offense and the circumstances giving rise to probable cause are unforeseeable and spontaneous.
1. Before addressing the parties’ arguments on the constitutional standard governing the search of defendant’s vehicle, the Court disposes of his challenge to the lawfulness of the stop. Defendant did not challenge the validity of the motor-vehicle stop before the trial court, but now claims that the filing of a motion to suppress under Rule 3:5-7(a) required the State to justify every aspect of the warrantless search, including the initial stop. The Court rejects defendant’s contention and concludes that the Appellate Division should have declined to entertain the belatedly raised issue. The Court reverses the Appellate Division on this point and holds that the lawfulness of the stop was not preserved for appellate review.
2. Having addressed defendant’s challenge to the lawfulness of the stop, the Court turns to the constitutional standard governing the search of defendant’s vehicle. The automobile exception to the warrant requirement -- as defined by the United States Supreme Court in construing the Fourth Amendment -- authorizes a police officer to conduct a warrantless search of a motor vehicle if it is “readily mobile” and the officer has “probable cause” to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of an offense. Under federal law, probable cause alone satisfies the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. The federal automobile exception does not require a separate finding of exigency in addition to a finding of probable cause, as is the case in New Jersey. The overwhelming majority of states have adopted the federal approach to the automobile exception and do not require exigency beyond the inherent mobility of the vehicle.
3. In State v. Alston, 88 N.J. 211 (1981), the Supreme Court of New Jersey upheld the constitutionality of the search of the defendants’ car based on the United States Supreme Court’s then-articulated automobile exception to the warrant requirement. In doing so, the Court stated that “the exigent circumstances that justify the invocation of the automobile exception are the unforseeability and spontaneity of the circumstances giving rise to probable cause, and the inherent mobility of the automobile stopped on the highway.” Id. at 233.
However, in State v. Cooke, 163 N.J. 657 (2000), the Court announced that, under Article I, Paragraph 7 of New Jersey’s State Constitution, the warrantless search of a vehicle could only be justified based on exigent circumstances in addition to probable cause. Pena-Flores reaffirmed the standard enunciated in Cooke, and declared that “the warrantless search of an automobile in New Jersey is permissible where (1) the stop is unexpected; (2) the police have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime; and (3) exigent circumstances exist under which it is impracticable to obtain a warrant.” 198 N.J. at 28. The Court further set forth a multi-factor test to guide police officers in determining whether exigent circumstances excused the securing of a warrant, and encouraged the use of telephonic and electronic warrants as a means to meet the constitutional challenges of roadway stops.
4. In the wake of Pena-Flores, this Court created the Supreme Court Special Committee on Telephonic and Electronic Search Warrants, which issued a report in January 2010. The Committee concluded that safety and police resource concerns dictated that search-warrant applications be completed in no more than 45 minutes, with an ideal goal of 30 minutes. The Committee further outlined six steps to be taken in securing a telephonic search warrant when a police officer believes that there is probable cause to search. Thereafter, the Administrative Office of the Courts conducted two pilot programs. The first lasted only two months and yielded little usable data.
The second ran in Burlington County from September 2011 to March 2012. During that period, the State Police and local law-enforcement agencies filed 42 telephonic automobile search-warrant applications. The average request for an automobile warrant took approximately 59 minutes, from the inception of the call to its completion. Separately, the State Police reported to the Administrative Office of the Courts that Troop C applied for 16 telephonic search warrants, with the process taking, on average, 1.5 to 2 hours. The State Police also reported that since Pena-Flores, its state-wide consent to search requests rose from approximately 300 per year to over 2500 per year, and that its patrol policy is to exhaust the consent search option prior to making a determination to seek a warrant, telephonic or in-person.
5. In State v. Shannon, 210 N.J. 225, 227 (2012), the Court declined the State’s request to revisit Pena-Flores, finding that the motor-vehicle data submitted by the State was insufficient “to establish the ‘special justification’ needed to depart from precedent.” However, the Court invited the parties to amass and develop a more thorough, statistical record relating to motor vehicle stops by the State Police and local authorities. Thereafter, the Office of Law Enforcement Professional Standards published a report entitled “The Effects of Pena-Flores on Municipal Police Departments.” The one firm conclusion reached by the report was that “after the Pena-Flores decision, there was a noticeable increase in consent to search requests for both municipal departments and the State Police; even with only a slight increase in the number of motor vehicle stops.”
6. Resolution of the issue before the Court implicates the doctrine of stare decisis. Because stare decisis promotes consistency, stability, and predictability in the development of legal principles and respect for judicial decisions, a “special justification” is required to depart from precedent. That said, stare decisis is not an inflexible principle depriving courts of the ability to correct their errors. Among the relevant considerations in determining whether to depart from precedent are whether the prior decision is unsound in principle and unworkable in practice. The Court,
therefore, turns to consider whether Pena-Flores is furthering the constitutional values that are protected by the New Jersey Constitution and whether there is “special justification” for departing from it.
7. The use of telephonic search warrants has not resolved the difficult problems arising from roadside searches, as the Court expected when it decided Pena-Flores. Prolonged encounters on the shoulder of a crowded highway may pose an unacceptable risk of serious bodily injury and death to both police officers and citizens. Moreover, the seizure of the car and the motorist’s detention may be a greater intrusion on a person’s liberty interest than the search is on a person’s privacy interest. Finally, the dramatic increase in the number of consent searches since Pena-Flores is apparently an unintended consequence of that decision, reflecting the difficulty presented to police officers by the Pena-Flores multi-factor exigent-circumstances standard. The Court is concerned about consent searches in such great numbers, particularly in light of the historic abuse of such searches and the coercive effect of a search request made to a motorist stopped on the side of a road. The Court, therefore, concludes that the current approach to roadside searches premised on probable cause places significant burdens on law enforcement without any real benefit to the public.
8. Although the Court determines that the exigent-circumstances standard set forth in Cooke and Pena-Flores is unsound in principle and unworkable in practice, it does not adopt the federal standard for automobile searches because it is not fully consonant with the interests embodied in Article I, Paragraph 7 of the State Constitution. The Court returns to the Alston standard, which states that the automobile exception authorizes the warrantless search of an automobile only when the police have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence of an offense and the circumstances giving rise to probable cause are unforeseeable and spontaneous. The Court’s decision limits the automobile exception to on-scene warrantless searches, unlike federal jurisprudence, which allows a police officer to conduct a warrantless search at headquarters merely because the officer could have done so on the side of the road.
9. The Court’s decision is a new rule of law to be applied prospectively. Therefore, for purposes of this appeal, Pena-Flores is the governing law. However, going forward, the exigent-circumstances test in Cooke and Pena-Flores no longer applies, and the standard set forth in Alston for warrantless searches of automobiles based on probable cause governs.
The judgment of the Appellate Division is AFFIRMED, and the matter is REMANDED to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
JUSTICE LaVECCHIA, DISSENTING, expresses the view that the State has not shown a special justification to merit departure from settled law, and, therefore, stare decisis should prevail. Justice LaVecchia asserts that, contrary to the majority’s characterization, Cooke and Pena-Flores are not “unsound in principle,” and, further, the State has failed to show that the current law is “unworkable in practice.”