In Case of An Illegal Search, Evidence May Be Suppressed and The Case Dropped
SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
DOCKET NO. A-0128-19
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Respondent, Versus BRUCE A. POOLE, a/k/aBRUCE POOL, Defendant-Appellant.
Submitted April 28, 2021 – Decided June 25, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
This case arises out of a June 27, 2018, event where there were reported shots fired in Trenton. The location where the shots fired was reported within a high crime area categorized by illegal narcotics distribution and gun violence. The Trenton police department intelligence unit had reported to the officers and detectives “gangs were going back and forth retaliating against each other.” The officers who approach the scene drove up in a marked patrol vehicle with their lights activated. One officer observed a black Chevy impala with heavy tinted windows with a temporary Pennsylvania license plate traveling at a high rate of speed. The impala was traveling away from the officers and away from the location the reported shots were fired. The officers conducted a motor vehicle stop on the car. Officer observed three people in the car the driver, who is the defendant, and a front and rear passenger. Officers also detected the smell of marijuana from the vehicle. The officers when going back into their car were informed that the shots fired was a false alarm and the alleged shots had been firecrackers. A third officer responded to the motor vehicle stop and when he arrived, he asked everyone to remove themselves from the car. The officer noticed the driver was preoccupied with something in his pocket when exiting the vehicle. Officer claims it seemed like there was something in defendants’ pocket that he wanted to hide from the officers. After watching defendant act like he was hiding something, the officer decided to conduct a pat down and frisk of the defendant for weapons. The officer seized a 22 caliber semi-automatic pistol and arrested defendant. Subsequently, the officer searched the impala which they found marijuana in the front driver side floorboard.
During the suppression hearing the court found the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the impala for careless driving and having heavily tinted windows. The court also found the removal of defendant from the car was lawful because there was distinct odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. The court also found the officers pat down first was proper because defendant was concerned with his pocket. The court determine the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle since a handgun was recovered from defendant and detected the odor of marijuana which emanated from the vehicle. The court entered an order denying defendants motion to suppress evidence without a warrant and defendant pled guilty to second-degree certain persons not to possess weapons and was sentenced to five years custodial term with a five your parole eligibility.
On appeal, the defendant argues that after officers learned that a report of shots fired in the area was incorrect and then there is no constitutional basis to search the occupants of the stopped car. Defendant does not dispute the officer’s observation of the matter in which he operated the impala as well as the vehicles heavily tinted windows. The Appellate court contends the two violations provide a reasonable and articulable suspicion since he committed motor vehicle violations which supported the motor vehicle stop. Once the motor vehicle stop was effectuated and the officer was awfully standing next to the drivers side window, the smell of marijuana at the time created probable cause for removing the occupants and searching the car. The search/pat down of the driver for the officer’s safety was lso upheld as lawful.
The Appellate Court noted the officer stopped the vehicle in a high crime area which is known for the gun violence and illegal narcotics distribution. There was a murder recently before this alleged shooting and another shooting in the days preceding the motor vehicle stop. Based on officer’s past experiences they understood vehicles with heavily tinted windows and temporary out of state license plate like the impala are frequently used in drive-by shootings. After the motor vehicle stop defendant failed to comply with officers when directed to show his hands and keep his hands where they could be seen. Defendant kept hands in his pocket or on his lap which raised suspicions as well as the smell of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. The appellate court states since there was a permissible search a stop and frisk would have been done anyway because of the marijuana odor. The gun would have been found regardless.
Appellate court also determined that even if there was no stop and frisk immediately upon the defendant’s removal from the vehicle, law enforcement would have discovered a handgun after arresting defendant for possession of marijuana and searching him pursuant to the arrest. Assuming the officers stop and frisk was unlawful the, handgun was otherwise admissible under the inevitable discovery doctrine. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.
Here at Hark & Hark we have experience dealing with many illegal searches of persons, homes, and vehicles. If you have been arrested because of an illegal search we will work hard to get the evidence suppressed and case dropped. If you have any questions, please contact us at 856-354-0050.