Cops in New Jersey can order a driver out of his car, but not the passenger -- at least, not without good reason. That was the conclusion of an appellate panel of the New Jersey Superior Court last month after considering the case against Tawian Bacome, who was driving a Ford Bronco when a pair of detectives set up a sting operation in the late afternoon of April 29, 2011.
Woodbridge Detectives Brian Jaremczak and Patrick Harris suspected that
the Bronco was involved in a drug deal. They were ready when it passed
by on Route 9. They claimed Bacome's passenger was riding without a
seatbelt and initiated a traffic stop. After Detective Harris said he
saw Bacome reach under his seat, both the driver and passenger were
ordered out of the car. Once the vehicle's door was open, the detectives
saw a rolled up piece of paper and a small piece of Brillo pad, which
they concluded was drug paraphenalia. This became justification for a
search of the SUV, something they intended to do even before the stop
"I asked him out of the vehicle," Detective Jaremczak testified. "And at
that time it became a narcotic investigation... I did believe that they
went to Newark to purchase narcotics."
A trial judge considered this sufficient to uphold a conviction for
possession of the crack cocaine that was subsequently found. The
three-judge appellate panel majority disgreed becase there was no reason
to order the passenger out of the car.
The majority reasoned that a driver could be ordered out of a car
because of the importance of a police officer's safety. Here, the
majority found the detectives were simply operating on a hunch. Failure
to wear a seatbelt is a situation that hardly raises suspicion of
"The record reveals that much of what motivated this stop and
investigation was the detectives' assumption that defendant and
[passenger] were narcotics users or sellers or both," Judge Fisher
wrote. "The record contains nothing but rumor and innuendo to support
No evidence of a threat to officer safety was presented at trial, and
the driver's movement did not suggest the passenger was a danger.
"The order that [the passenger] exit the vehicle was impermissible and
-- because it was the linchpin for all that followed -- defendant's
motion to suppress what was thereafter discovered and seized should have
been granted," Judge Fisher concluded.