Confidential Information (CI) Tip of The Wrong Car Led to An Arrest and Finding of Heroin
Appellate Docket No.: A-4589-18
Decided October 14, 2021
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed whether probable cause for an arrest existed for a Confidential Information (CI) tip of the wrong car led to an arrest and finding of heroin because of a call made to an undercover police cell phone.
In State v. Gray, Detective Mathew DiDomenico testified that on February 25, 2018, he was working for the Camden County Police Department assigned to the Narcotics and Gang Unit. He was part of an undercover investigation of an individual known as Jamal Parker. DiDomenico testified that Parker used a cell phone to make sales of CDS. As part of the investigation, a confidential informant (CI) first made a “controlled purchase” of CDS from Parker. For the second purchase, the CI introduced Parker to an undercover detective, Detective Fesi. After that, the Detective Fesi made additional controlled CDS purchases.
DiDomenico testified the investigation revealed “there were other people involved in this [drug] operation revolving around this same cell phone number.” Derek Stephens was one of the distributors who used the cell phone. Additional controlled purchases were made throughout March 2018. All the purchases were made using the same cell phone number.
A decision was made to begin making arrests. On March 28, 2019, using the cell phone, Detective Fesi contacted Stephens to make a purchase. Stephens arranged to meet at a McDonald’s they used previously. DiDomenico and another detective parked in an unmarked vehicle in the Little Caesars’ parking lot, which faced the McDonald’s lot. They were wearing clothing that showed a police logo, which was visible by someone looking into the vehicle.
DiDomenico testified that Stephens was driving a Nissan Altima and parked next to their vehicle. He was arrested and found to be in possession of $752. Detective Fesi made a “confirmatory call” to the cell phone number that was being used but it was not with Stephens, and an unidentified male answered. Detective Fesi wanted to complete the purchase. After asking how much money the undercover detective had, the male confirmed he was on his way in a black Nissan Altima.
DiDomenico testified an older model silver Infiniti vehicle pulled into the Little Caesars’ lot and parked next to them. The windows in that car were fully tinted. No one got out for about five minutes, and then two men emerged, going into the McDonald’s. After ten minutes, they came out with a bag of food and drove out of the parking lot. DiDomenico recorded the vehicle’s license number.
Detective Fesi texted the cell phone number, asking the unknown male where he was. In a return call, the unidentified male advised there was a police presence at the McDonald’s, he left and was going to another location — the Auto Zone parking lot — and that he was driving an Infiniti. DiDomenico followed, stopping the silver Infiniti and arresting the two occupants, including defendant. In a search following his arrest, defendant was found in possession of sixty-eight wax folds containing probable heroin. The police called the cell phone number. A flip-phone in the Infiniti began to ring and was seized.
Defendant was indicted along with four others in a multi-count indictment. His charges included third-degree possession of CDS (heroin) (Count Eleven), N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1); third-degree possession with intent to distribute CDS (heroin) (Count Twelve), N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and 2C:35-5(b)(3); and second-degree certain persons not to have weapons (Count Fourteen), N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b)(1).
Defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the description of the vehicle the police received did not match that of defendant’s, and therefore the police lacked probable cause to search the vehicle. The Judge denied the motion, finding probable cause based on the experience of the police officers and the use of the phone, although the description did not match the car, the police knew the car was there for CDS. Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed on the same grounds.
This case is important to understand the different levels of suspicion necessary for officers to take action. To effectuate a traffic stop or investigation and questioning officers only need a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed. To make an arrest, request a search warrant, and search and seize property, officers need probable cause – a higher standard than a reasonable suspicion.
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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