In Some Cases, Evidence of an Anonymous Tip, Alone, Is Sufficient to Justify an Investigatory Stop, or a Terry Stop
Appellate Docket No.: A-2614-18T1
Decided November 9, 2020
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In an unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey upheld a denial of a motion to suppress when an anonymous tip claiming two individuals with a handgun in a car in a high crime area was sufficiently accurate for officers to effectuate an investigative search.
In State v. Kelly, police received an anonymous tip that two white males were parked in a black Cadillac in a certain section of Millville known to be a high-crime area, and that the passenger had a handgun in his lap. The tipster reported that the suspect vehicle was parked behind a silver minivan, the driver wore a black t-shirt, and the passenger wore a white t-shirt.
When officers arrived, there was a black Cadillac parked behind a silver minivan, as reported. Officers attempted to shine flashlights in the car but the heavily tinted windows prevented officers from viewing the passengers. Officers used the loudspeaker to instruct the driver to roll down the window but there was no response. Asking the driver again to roll down his window, defendant partially rolled down his window so officers could not see inside. Defendant also avoided questioning. Defendant was ordered out of the car, where he was seen wearing a black shirt and the passenger wearing a white shirt, as reported by the anonymous tipster.
While standing outside the car officers spotted a needle. A dog sniff confirmed the smell. Defendant’s car was impounded and a search warrant was executed recovering two rifles, a dagger and a sawed-off shotgun.
Defendant moved to suppress the evidence found in the car on the basis of an unlawful search but the motion was denied. Defendant was convicted of third-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b(2); fourth-degree possession of a prohibited weapon, specifically, a blade larger than five inches, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(e); and second-degree possession of a weapon by a convicted person, N.J.S.A. 2C:39- 7.
Defendant appealed the denial of his motion to suppress. The Appellate Division found the officers had a reasonable suspicion a crime was being committed, justifying them to investigate and later ask defendant out of the car, because the anonymous tip confirmed the car types and location, defendant refused to roll down his window initially, then only partially, attempting to conceal himself, refused to answer questions, and the car was in a high crime area. The anonymous tip was later found even more reliable when the defendant was confirmed to be wearing a black t shirt and the passenger a white t shirt, as reported. The positive dog sniff allowed officers to impound the car and later search for the remaining evidence.
This case is important because evidence of an anonymous tip, alone, is normally insufficient to give officers a reasonable articulable suspicion a crime is being committed and justifying an investigatory stop, or a Terry stop. Here, the anonymous tip was specific enough to be utilized by police to continue their investigation leading to finding the incriminating evidence.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case involving motions to suppress. 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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