New Jersey Criminal Lawyer – Appellate Opinions – State v. Handy

State v. Handy, 412 N.J. Super. 492 (App. Div. 2010)

The facts in the case before us are quite distinct from those in Herring. Rather than a past clerical error, such as neglecting to remove a no-longer valid warrant, the police dispatcher in this case inaccurately reported to the police officer in the field that there was an active warrant for Handy when, in fact, there were significant discrepancies in the spelling of the first name and the date of birth that were not reported at the same time, thereby causing the arrest of the wrong person. Had the police dispatcher reported the discrepancies at the same time as the existence of the warrant, Drogo would have attempted to verify that the warrant was for Handy before, rather than after, the arrest. Inasmuch as he was never able to verify that the warrant was for Handy, the arrest and the resulting search would not have taken place.

The State’s suggestion on appeal that the warrant may actually have been for Handy is simply not supported in the record. As previously noted, the date of birth Handy gave to Drogo is the same date of birth reflected on the pre-sentence report. In addition, the list of aliases in the pre-sentence report does not include “Jermaine O. Handy,” the name on the warrant.

The deterrent value of applying the exclusionary rule in this case is, in our view, quite significant, especially in contrast to the low value under the factual circumstances before the Supreme Court in Herring. The police dispatcher is the crucial link between the officer in the field and police headquarters. The officer depends on receiving the correct information from the dispatcher, information such as whether there is or is not an outstanding arrest warrant for the person with whom the officer is then face to face. Misinformation either way has the potential to leave the officer either unaware that he or she is dealing with a dangerous criminal or arresting the wrong person.

The need to avoid the former is obvious and clearly in the best interest of the police officer in the field, the need to avoid the latter finds its basis in the Fourth Amendment’s protection of “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” See also N.J. Const. art. I, ¶ 7. The police officer in the field and the citizen on the street both benefit from a police dispatch system that is free of unreasonable conduct by dispatchers who fail to ensure that they are providing the available information about outstanding warrants as accurately and completely as possible.

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