An Investigatory Stop, Followed by An Arrest Requires Reasonable and Articulable Suspicion as Well as Probable Cause
Appellate Docket No.: A-1070-19
Decided January 7, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey affirmed a denial of a motion to suppress without an evidentiary hearing after detectives detained defendant, brought him back to the police station, and obtained a warrant which led to finding a secret compartment in his vehicle that contained multiple kilograms of cocaine.
In State v. Ruiz-Montano, on December 12, 2017, detectives from the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) conducted a stop of defendant’s vehicle. The detectives detained defendant and later obtained a search warrant for the vehicle. A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a hidden compartment in the center console containing approximately six kilograms of cocaine, a scale, and $4,500 in cash.
The grand jury charged defendant in the following five counts of the thirty-seven-count indictment: second-degree conspiracy to distribute CDS, cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1), (b)(1), and (c), and N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 (count one); first-degree possession with intent to distribute CDS, cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35- 5(a)(1), (b)(1) (count sixteen); third-degree possession of CDS, cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:2-6 (count eighteen); third-degree possession with intent to distribute CDS, cocaine, on or within 1,000 feet of school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7 and N.J.S.A. 2C:2-6 (count nineteen); and third-degree money laundering, N.J.S.A. 2C:21-25(a) (count twenty).
Defendant moved to suppress the evidence recovered from his vehicle. In part, he claimed the warrantless motor vehicle stop and his subsequent detention while the State applied for the search warrant were unconstitutional because the detectives lacked “reasonable suspicion or probable cause” to believe he committed an offense.
The Court denied defendant’s motion without an evidentiary hearing because of the State’s brief detailing that the detectives have been investigating the defendant for some time, including two past incidents in which detectives viewed defendant at the same apartment carry out the same filled duffle bag. In addition, the detectives had various wire taps to confirm the duffle bag contained CDS. The Court did not conduct an evidentiary hearing because there was no dispute of material fact.
Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed, finding that defendant did not provide any dispute as to the facts alleged by the State, detailing the various wiretaps and past incidents in which they viewed the defendant at the same residence with the same duffle bag. What’s more, the ensuing detain and de facto arrest was warranted because the detectives had probable cause based on the totality of the circumstances and their past experience.
This case is important to understand what is required and lawful to conduct an investigatory stop, followed by an arrest. To conduct a lawful investigatory stop, also know as a Terry stop, officers need a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a crime is being committed. Here, the wiretaps and past information of the defendant coupled with the detectives’ CDS investigation experience were sufficient to have a reasonable and articulable suspicion defendant was involved with the CDS transaction.
Next, to effectuate the arrest, detectives need probable cause. Probable cause is well-grounded suspicion that defendant is committing a crime. Here, probable cause was also met with the same information from the wiretaps and past evidence of defendant’s whereabouts and actions. This allowed officers to arrest defendant and take him back to the station while they waited for a search warrant.
If you or someone you know have been charged with any indictable offense or disorderly persons involving a search and/or questioning of police, contact the experienced attorney at Hark & Hark to ensure you are adequately defended, otherwise you could have negative impacts on your case like the defendant above.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make an arrest.
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