Motion to Suppress Marijuana and a Firearm Seized During a Traffic Stop
Docket No. A-2170-20
Decided May 31, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided S.H.’s appeal from an order denying his motion to suppress marijuana and a firearm seized during a traffic stop.
In early September 2020, an officer stopped a motor vehicle with darkly-tinted front windows for an illegal tinting infraction. The officer was able to see the vehicle’s occupants moving through the rear window as he was effectuating the stop. The officer detected the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle as he approached. When asked to produce his license, registration, and proof of insurance, the driver was only able to produce his temporary registration and identifying information. The driver stated he was driving S.H. (juvenile), a back-seat passenger, to S.H.’s grandmother’s house. There were two other adults and two infants in the vehicle. As more officers arrived on scene, the initial officer advised there was a high probability of contraband in the car, specifically, firearms.
The officer then asked to speak to S.H. about his friend’s fatal shooting the prior night because information was received that there may be retaliatory shootings. When S.H. exited the car, the officer first asked how he was doing, then stated “what’s up with all the weed you got on you? You got a ton of stuff in there?” S.H. denied the accusation. The officer and S.H. moved away from the car, and the officer frisked S.H. for weapons. The driver then denied consent to search the vehicle and denied that there were weapons or drugs in the vehicle.
After approximately 21 minutes, the K-9 arrived on scene. After the K-9 indicated positively on the vehicle, officers searched the car and found two small bags of marijuana and a handgun located in a duffel bag. S.H. took responsibility for the contraband and was subsequently arrested. The motor vehicle stop took approximately 1 hour.
After his initial attempt to suppress the firearm and the marijuana recovered during the during the traffic stop was unsuccessful, S.H. pled guilty to second degree unlawful possession of a handgun and a violation of probation. He also pled guilty to first degree maintaining or operating a controlled dangerous substance manufacturing facility that was related to another incident. S.H. appealed his motion to suppress.
On appeal, S.H. contended that the court erred in finding the stop valid because the State failed to prove the car windows were illegally tinted. S.H. further argued that the State did not prove the police officers had probable cause to search the vehicle or reasonable articulable suspicion to prolong the stop for a dog sniff. Finally, S.H. argued the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act (CREAMMA), N.J.S.A. 24:6I-31 to -56, should retroactively apply to his case and remove any reasonable articulable suspicion the officers had that marijuana was in the vehicle.
After considering all arguments, the Appellate Court of New Jersey was ultimately unpersuaded and affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The court found that it could not consider the issue of the validity of the motor vehicle stop because S.H. conceded at trial that the traffic stop was valid. Additionally, the court found no basis in the record to reject the officers’ testimony that they smelled marijuana. Finally, the court also found the Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act was enacted after this incident and did not apply retroactively. As a result, its provisions were not applicable in this case.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining motions to suppress evidence seized as the result of an unlawful search. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.
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