Goodson, Part 2 — From the street to the house…..Can the police get into the house and search?

STATE OF NEW JERSEY v. ROBERT O. GOODSON,  Decided December 3, 2019

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

Defendant Robert O. Goodson appeals from his October 27, 2017 conviction after his motion to suppress the evidence was denied. Because the facts track very closely with those in State v. Rosario, 229 N.J. 263 (2017), we reverse, suppressing the evidence found in defendant’s car and home, vacating his guilty plea, and remanding for further proceedings.

  1. Facts Developed at the Suppression Hearing.
  2. On August 6, 2016, Plainfield Detective Pierre McCall and three other officers were traveling in a police SUV, which, although unmarked, was a “well known police vehicle,” equipped with lights and sirens.
  3. At approximately 9:00 pm, on the “hot night,” the officers turned onto Sumner Avenue, a narrow residential street known to law enforcement as a “high crime narcotic area.” Immediately after turning, they “observed a brown Honda parked on the west side of the street, facing southbound.”
  4. The Honda was lawfully parked outside of defendant’s residence and was “occupied by a black male,”later identified as defendant, who was “sweating heavily.” McCall testified that as the officers passed defendant’s car, “it appeared that he leaned back to shield himself out of our view.” The officers then “backed up alongside [defendant’s car].”
  5. McCall and another officer shined their “really bright” LED flashlights inside, and McCall asked defendant “his reason for being in the area.” Defendant told the officers that he came out to the car to retrieve a tablet.
  6. Officer McCall “believed there was more to it” because he could not see the tablet from where he was seated in the police SUV, so he stepped out of the SUV and approached defendant’s driver’s side door, shining his flashlight into the car.
  7. McCall asked defendant his address and defendant responded that he lived where he was parked.
  8. FROM THAT VANTAGE POINT McCall could see a clear plastic baggie containing a green pill on the driver’s side door armrest. 
  9. He reached inside the car to retrieve the pill and ordered defendant out. As defendant exited, another officer smelled marijuana and asked defendant if he had any marijuana. Defendant replied he had marijuana in his pocket. Meanwhile, a third officer searched the car, finding a container of pills and heroin.
  10. McCall placed defendant under arrest, handcuffed him, read him the Miranda1 warnings, and asked if defendant would consent to a search of his home. Defendant refused to provide consent. McCall then informed defendant he would obtain a warrant.
  11. Another police SUV arrived containing four additional officers. Defendant’s child’s grandmother left the home, and an officer began to question her. Defendant then said he did not want anyone else involved and would consent to a search of the home.
  12. Because defendant had a foot injury and thus did not want to accompany officers to his third-floor apartment, he provided them with his keys and instruction. The officers recovered additional narcotics, paraphernalia, and a handgun.Defendant was subsequently indicted for various drug charges as well as illegal possession of the handgun.

Defendant pled guilty pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement to second- degree possession of a firearm in the course of committing a drug offense, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4.1(a), and was sentenced on October 27, 2017, to eight years in prison with a forty-eight month parole disqualifier.

  1. The Search of Defendant’s Home.

In Rodriguez, our Court firmly held that where a defendant was unlawfully detained, “the stop’s illegality void[ed] [the] defendant’s subsequent consent to search and, as a result, the fruits of the warrantless search must be suppressed.” 172 N.J. at 133. “In view of our conclusion that the officers lacked a sufficient basis to detain defendant, we need not evaluate whether his consent to the search was voluntary. The illegal detention voids the consent.” Id. at 132.

The State argues that the attenuation doctrine applies. Where the connection between the unlawful police conduct and the seizure is “so attenuated as to dissipate the taint” from the unlawful conduct, the evidence need not be excluded. Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590, 609 (1975); see also State v. Badessa, 185 N.J. 303, 311 (2005).

The factors for determining attenuation are: 

(1) ‘the temporal proximity’ between the illegal conduct and the challenged evidence; 

(2) ‘the presence of intervening circumstances’; and 

(3) ‘particularly, the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct.'” 

State v. Shaw, 213 N.J. 398, 415 (2012) (quoting Brown, 422 U.S. at 602–04). The burden of demonstrating attenuation rests on the State. Brown, 422 U.S. at 604.

With regard to the first factor, the time period here was mere minutes, and the link explicitly clear. See Shaw, 213 N.J. at 416. As the Court recognized, “[i]n cases where a confession or consent to search follows shortly after an unlawful stop, the brevity of the interval ordinarily will work against the State.” Ibid. “[T]he closeness in time between the two may lend credence to the argument that an unlawful detention was exploited to extract a confession or consent from a suspect.” Ibid.

With regard to the second factor, the presence of intervening circumstances, it is axiomatic that “[a] consent to search that is attributable to police misconduct involving the violations of constitutional rights may be regarded as the product of that unconstitutional conduct and an invalid basis on which to justify a search.” State v. Smith, 155 N.J. 83, 101 (1998).

The third factor looks to the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct. Shaw, 213 N.J. at 420. While no evidence suggests the police purposefully violated defendant’s constitutional rights, violations of “[t]he right of freedom of movement without unreasonable interference by government officials . . . weigh[] most heavily against the State.” Id. at 421. As the State has failed to demonstrate “the connection between the unconstitutional police action and the [secured] evidence[s] [was] ‘so attenuated as to dissipate the taint’ from the unlawful conduct,” the evidence seized from defendant’s home must also be suppressed. Badessa, 185 N.J. at 311 (quoting Murray v. United States, 487 U.S. 533, 536 (1988)). Because we reverse the order denying defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence seized from his car and home, we vacate defendant’s guilty plea.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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