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  • Writer's pictureJudge Michael Donio

Ask the Judge: Can police legally unlock and search my glove box without a warrant?

Can police legally unlock and search my glove box without a warrant? I was pulled over for speeding and because I was sassy with the cop, he wanted to search my car. I refused to let him in my glove box as I had cash for Christmas shopping. Nothing was found in the rest of my car and the cop got exasperated and left me with a speeding ticket.

The Fourth Amendment gives you rights against unlawful search and seizure. If you were stopped for speeding and had trouble finding your credentials in a glove box, the officer did not have a right to go into your glove box and search for that. On the other hand, if the officer had probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that you had drugs, or something of that nature illegal in your car, then under certain circumstances for the safety of that officer the search would be allowed. However, simply because you got sassy with the cop, does not give him a right to search your car without a warrant under the circumstances you described. I can tell you that this area of the law of search and seizure in an automobile is highly fact specific and the law can turn one way or the other on a specific fact. Based on what you indicate, I believe the officer was correct in not pushing the issue of searching your glove box, and I am sure that your attitude may have had something to do with receiving the speeding ticket. Let me add that in the society we live in today, officers put their lives on the line every day they go out and stop a car. Therefore, no one should give any officer a hard time, especially if you are simply stopped for a speeding ticket. All you need to do is watch TV to see some horrific things that happen as a result of a mere automobile stop.

My relative caught COVID-19 in jail and has been quite sick. Do we have any recourse here?

Normally, I would think the answer to that would be no. However, there are now cases popping up where nursing homes and places of that nature even after given immunity by State Law, have been sued if it can be proved that they were reckless in the way they handled COVID-19. A case against nursing homes in New Jersey just settled recently for a lot of money. Even though the nursing home had immunity, it only covered negligence and not reckless behavior. In that case, there was proof that the people in the home were not using protective equipment or even wearing masks because they did not want to instill fear in the people in the nursing home and make them leave. I am not saying that this is the same situation in the jail, and you indicate the person was sick, but did not die. My response is you may want to speak with a lawyer, but off the top of my head, I would think that your case would be weak because the jails, I know, went through a lot of safety protocols when COVID-19 started.

Judge Michael Donio served as a New Jersey State Superior Court Judge for 20 years before retiring on July 31, 2015. He now operates a legal consulting and mediation firm on the White Horse Pike. Donio can be reached by calling (609) 481-2919. Send your questions for his columns to


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