Failure to Obey a Legal Command

State v. Rue Not Reported in A.3d, 2013 WL 195520 (App. Div. 2013)

Posted by: New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffery Hark

On March 15, 2007, two officers were patrolling in a high crime area in Trenton. The officers saw an Oldsmobile stopped in a driveway and a person was leaning into the passenger window. The person that was leaning was recognized by police as a drug offender. The officers stopped their car and shined a flashlight onto the stopped vehicle. The drug offender began walking away and one of the officers went to detain him. The other officer approached the Oldsmobile and before he could get to the vehicle, the driver, who was later determined to be defendant Rue, began to drive out of the driveway. The officer twice commanded the driver (Rue) to stop the car, which defendant ignored. The defendant drove onto the street and the officer followed behind. The officer eventually caught up to the defendant’s vehicle and turned on his overhead lights. At this point, the defendant did not proceed further. The officer then approached the defendant’s car and he saw defendant put his hands near his waistband. The officer commanded the defendant to show his hands, which he initially ignored. The officer was concerned that the defendant might have a weapon so he ordered the defendant to out of his car. Defendant stepped out of the car and put his hands on the roof of his car and at this time, several bundles of heroin fell to the ground out of his pant leg. The officer recovered forty-nine glassine bags of heroin.

At the suppression hearing the defendant testified that he never heard the officer command him to stop when he was pulling his car out of the driveway.

The trial judge found the officer’s testimony to be credible. The trial judge concluded that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to effect a temporary investigative detention of defendant in the driveway only because defendant was stopped in his car and speaking to a known drug offender. However, the judge concluded that defendant’s failure to obey Maxwell’s command to stop provided at least reasonable suspicion justifying the officer’s subsequent stop of his car at the traffic light and detention of defendant for the offense of obstruction.

The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress based on its application of the attenuation doctrine as discussed by the Supreme Court in State v. Marcellus Williams, 192 N.J. 1, 15 (2007). In reliance on that case, the judge concluded that the obstruction offense was an intervening circumstance that dissipated the taint of the initial unconstitutional command to stop, and, therefore, the seizure of heroin resulting from the motor vehicle stop did not violate defendant’s constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

Consequently, Defendant Jason Rue pleaded guilty to illegal drug charges in two indictments. He appealed the denial of his motion to suppress evidence.

The Appellate Division relied on two case, State v. Robert Williams, 410 N.J.Super. 549 (App.Div.2009), certif. denied, 201 N.J. 440 (2010) and State v. Shaw, ––– N.J. –––– (2012), that were decided after the trial court’s ruling in this case. The Appellate Division decided that based on these two cases, that the trial court ruling must be reversed, and the heroin evidence must be suppressed.

In Robert Williams, the appellate division held that an unconstitutional order to a fleeing person to stop was not attenuated by the suspect’s continuing his flight and thus his obstruction offense. Robert Williams, supra, 410 564. In the Williams case the appellate division found that the defendant’s brief flight on a bicycle from a police command to stop did not give officers reasonable suspicion to detain him. Writing for the court, Judge Skillman considered the three factors of the attenuation doctrine and rejected the State’s argument that a defendant’s flight is automatically an “intervening circumstance” that dissipates the taint of the initial police conduct. Id. at 559–60. Judge Skillman concluded that, where the defendant did nothing more than violate the obstruction statute by failing to heed a police command to stop, the State did not demonstrate “significant attenuation” of the unconstitutional police conduct. Id. at 564.

Additionally, the Supreme Court’s December 2012 decision in Shaw, supra, ––– N.J. ––––, set stricter limits on the attenuation doctrine. In Shaw, the police were attempting to execute a warrant for a fugitive at the apartment complex were he lived. The defendant walked out of the building. Defendant was not the fugitive but, like him, was an African–American man. Id. at –––– (slip op. at 12). The police did not see the defendant do anything to suggest he might be involved in criminal activity. Ibid. When an officer asked for his name, the defendant refused to identify himself and attempted to walk away. Id. at –––– (slip op. at 13). The police detained him to determine his identity. After only a few minutes, other officers arrived and confirmed that the defendant was not the fugitive they were seeking, but they also revealed that an arrest warrant existed for the defendant for an unrelated parole violation. Incident to the defendant’s arrest on the parole warrant, drugs were found on his person. Id. at –––– (slip op. at 14). In his prosecution on drug charges, the Supreme Court viewed the issue as “whether the drugs found on Shaw were the product of the ‘exploitation’ of the unlawful stop and detention or of a ‘means sufficiently distinguishable’ from the constitutional violation such that the ‘taint’ of the violation was ‘purged.’ “ –––– (slip op. at 30) (citing Hudson v. Michigan, 547 U.S. 586, 592, 126 S.Ct. 2159, 2164, 165 L. Ed.2d 56, 65 (2006)). The Court held that the existence of the parole warrant was not a sufficient intervening circumstance to dissipate the taint of the initial unconstitutional detention and the subsequent search of the defendant’s person incident to his arrest. Id. at –––– (slip op. at 42).


The appellate court stated that :

“[t]he decisions in Shaw and Robert Williams lead us to conclude that the disorderly persons offense of fleeing an unconstitutional police command to stop,N.J.S.A. 2C:29–1(b), without more, does not dissipate the taint of the constitutional violation. Especially where the police seized evidence almost immediately and through a direct chain of causation that included their unconstitutional command, the exclusionary rule and the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ doctrine require suppression of the evidence.”

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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