Just A Chat With The Police | Investigatory Stops

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

Sometimes It Just Makes Sense to Talk to the Police

State v. Merrit was decided in the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division on September 10th. The defendant was charged with third-degree conspiracy to possess crack cocaine. His motion to suppress evidence was denied by the prior court so he entered into a negotiated plea agreement but reserved his right to appeal the denial of the motion to suppress.

Suspicious Activity and Investigatory Stops

The case came to be when two police officers were patrolling a housing project when they saw the defendant approach a man in front of one of the residences. They knew that the defendant did not live in the housing projects from past interactions and they also knew that the man he approached sold drugs. They saw what they believed to be a hand-to-hand drug exchange. It was found to be fact that the police asked the defendant to talk to them but did not detain him. He then turned away and dropped a bag of crack. At this point the police investigated the bag, saw that it was crack, and made the arrest.

Reasonable Suspicion to Search Further

While citizens are free to go about their daily routines without unwarranted interruption from police, simply inquiring to speak with a citizen is not a violation of their constitutional rights. Had the defendant agreed to speak to the police they likely would not have had any probable cause to search him. While he was engaging in behavior that was suspicious to the police it was not criminal. The defendant gave the police the reasonable suspicion they needed to investigate further when he turned away and threw a bag of crack onto the ground. You do have a right not to speak with police even after arrest, and while you are free to go on your way prior to an investigatory stop, it is never a smart practice to react to a police inquiry by taking abrupt actions or trying to evade them altogether. In this case rather than talk to the police the defendant threw down the bag of crack and based on the totality of the circumstances it was found the police had reason to investigate what its contents were. To put it simply, rather than comply with a question or two the defendant literally threw incriminating evidence into the hands of the police.

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