Defendant Appeals Denial Of His Motion To Suppress A Loaded Handgun Seized During A Warrantless Search Of His Vehicle.

State of New Jersey v. Wadeworth Afflick

Docket No. A-3747-20

Decided November 10, 2022

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal of the denial of his motion to suppress a loaded handgun seized during a warrantless search of his vehicle.

The facts of this case are as follows: On August 2, 2019, at approximately 8:44 p.m., an officer patrolling the Garden State Parkway noticed a gray Nissan Altima nearly sideswipe another car. The officer’s radar gun clocked the Nissan’s speed at eighty miles per hour, which was twenty-five miles per hour above the speed limit. At this point, the officer activated his emergency lights and imitated a motor vehicle stop of the vehicle based on the motor vehicle violations. Defendant continued to drive for five seconds before pulling over.

The officer believed defendant’s delayed reaction to the activation of his sirens suggested he was under the influence of an intoxicant. When defendant pulled over, he was moving around in the vehicle in such a manner to suggest to the officer that he was attempting to conceal contraband of some kind.

As the officer approached the passenger’s side, he detected a strong odor of alcohol emanating from the vehicle and saw in plain view on the passenger seat a bottle a vodka in a black plastic bag. The officer also had to request the defendant’s driving credentials multiple times. The officer testified at the suppression hearing that he suspected the driver was impaired because his arm was shaking, he seemed nervous, his speech was slurred, his eyes were bloodshot and watery, and his responses were delayed. Defendant also lit a cigarette which affected the officer’s ability to detect the odor of alcohol on his breath and within his vehicle.

During this encounter, a motorist stopped his car in the southbound express roadway and shouted to the officer that the man he pulled over had a gun and to call for backup. The motorist further explained to the officer that the defendant had pointed a gun at him during a road rage incident. Armed with this knowledge, the officer ordered defendant out of his vehicle and frisked him for weapons. The officer’s frisk for weapons was negative. Defendant advised the officer that he did not know the motorist but acknowledged that the two men had been involved in a road rage incident. Defendant claimed the motorist cut him off and defendant pointed his hand at him.

Defendant advised officers on scene that he had consumed two shots at a bar. The officer administered the first sobriety test then performed a protective sweep of the defendant’s vehicle for no more than a minute and located no contraband. Based on the totality of the circumstances the officer concluded defendant was impaired and unable to operate his car. Thus, defendant was arrested for driving while intoxicated (DWI).

After he was arrested, defendant denied there was a gun in the car. Defendant was frisked once again when backup arrived and he was negative for any contraband on his person. The officers then conducted a probable cause search of the vehicle for open containers. At this point, another officer seized a loaded .380 semi-automatic handgun from underneath the steering wheel that was loaded with five bullets in the magazine and one in the chamber. Officers also recovered a small quantity of marijuana, an empty “shooter-size” bottle of vodka, and several unopened vodka shooter bottles.

At the conclusion of defendant’s motion to suppress the loaded handgun seized by officers without a warrant, the judge found the officer who initiated the motor vehicle stop to be extremely credible and the judge rejected defendant’s argument that the officer lacked probable cause to arrest defendant for DWI and that the scope of the search exceeded the search for open alcohol since “the circumstances giving rise to probable cause in this case were unforeseeable and spontaneous.” Consequently, the trial judge denied defendant’s motion. Following the denial of his motion, defendant pled guilty to a seven-year prison term, with a 42-month period of parole ineligibility under the Graves Act. Defendant subsequently appealed.

On appeal, defendant contended that the officer did not have probable cause to perform the warrantless search and that his sentence was excessive. Defendant argued that the mere fact of operating a vehicle inebriated does not give rise to an automatic assumption that open containers will be found in the car. Defendant further argued that although the motorist’s allegations may have given rise to reasonable suspicion that a weapon would be found in the car, these uncorroborated allegations could not give rise to probable cause. The Appellate Court was unconvinced and affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The Appellate Court reasoned that the officer’s observations of defendant’s level intoxication coupled with his performance in the field sobriety tests gave rise to probable cause to search the vehicle for evidence of the alcohol containers. The Appellate Court also was unpersuaded by defendant’s argument that his sentence was excessive because in view of the circumstances of the offense and defendant’s criminal history, the sentence “did not shock the judicial conscience.”

At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients for appeals in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to motions to suppress physical evidence obtained without a warrant. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the defendant in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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