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New law is meant to determine if you were talking/texting while driving, but represents a gross invasion of privacy

Expect this one to light up the appeals court if it's passed: New Jersey's state senate is considering a bill (No. 2783) that would allow a police officer to seize your cell phone and check your messages and phone calls to see if you were talking or texting when the accident occurred.

Back in 2007, New Jersey became one of the first states to ban texting while driving (P.L. 2007, c.198 [PDF]).  It currently is also working on a bill (No. 69 R1) that would increase the penalties of texting while driving by a couple hundred dollars, plus at three points to a drivers license for every offense after the second one.

But those efforts pale in comparison to the latest effort -- the cell phone seizure act – that grants bold new powers to the police.  Its synopsis unequivocally states:

Permits police officer to confiscate cell phones under certain circumstances; increases penalties for texting while driving.

Jim Hopzafel
Sen. Jim Hopzapfel (R-Ocean) sponsored the seizure bill. [Image Source: Facebook]

The provisions of exactly when an officer can seize your phone are pretty ambiguous.  The bill states a phone may be seized:

[If] the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the operator involved in the accident was operating a hand-held wireless telephone while driving a motor vehicle [prior to the accident.]

State Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Ocean) sponsored the bill.  He tells, "Think about it: The chances of the cop witnessing the accident are slim to none."

Local police are already salivating at their new potential powers.  Comments Sgt. Ken Drost, who works in South Brunswick and is president of the Middlesex County Traffic Officers Association, "It’s one of the questions you ask them: ‘Were you on your cell phone at the time of the crash?’ And, of course, they say ‘no.'  Without the phone you really can’t tell."

Prepare to have your phone seized. [Image Source: Getty Images]

But the possibility of new powers of seizure for police is already drawing the ire of many groups.  

Steve Carrellas, New Jersey representative of the National Motorists Association, says that even with the Orwellian seizure you won't be able to really "tell" if the phone caused the crash.  He remarks, "Here’s the bottom line: If you went all through what the bill is supposedly allowing, you still can’t determine if the person with the phone actually had a distraction that contributed to a crash."

American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey suggests its crafting a "constitutional challenge" should the bill be enacted.  Local counsel Alexander Shalom comments, "This bill is problematic because it infringes on the privacy rights of citizens.  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."

A major question that the bill's proponents have not addressed is the question of what happens if you lock your phone.  If you safeguard your phone with a gesture or password, it's unclear whether an officer or court could punish you for failing to unlock.  This is a similar question to the issue of whether police have the right to demand forced decryption of suspects' hard drives.

Sources: NJ State Senate,

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RE: More crap articles from Jason Mick
By Shadowself on 6/12/2013 7:28:15 PM , Rating: 2
Ah yes, to hell with the Fifth Amendment. Require me to hand over my personal property without due process (i.e., getting a warrant) so that I can incriminate myself about breaking the law. Virtually 100% of the time the officer did not see me on the phone. Hell, in a high percentage of the time the person driving the other care didn't see me on the phone either! So just demand that I hand over my cell phone and provide what could appear to be (but might not really be, see my other posts) self incriminating evidence which will be utilized at the officers sole discretion!

Hell, you're not officially, legally at fault for the accident until you either admit that it was your fault or the courts say it was your fault. How is handing over your cell phone so the officer can view your calling/texting history not a forced admission of guilt (assuming you were on a call)?

By BRB29 on 6/13/2013 12:26:07 AM , Rating: 2
I don't agree with this potential law. It's dumb anyways because I can easily delete my text or call history in seconds.

I don't see why they need to do this. If someone is drifting all over the place because they're distracted then just give them a damn ticket for driving while distracted or wreckless driving. They can explain it in court with the judge.

If you hurt someone, then I hope you turn yourself in and be honest. If you did lie, it wouldn't make that much of a difference because that's trivial compared to what you have to deal with. You'll probably still get charged with other things anyways. I'm sure the judge can probably figure out if you're lying or not.

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