State v. Minitee, N.J. Super. (App. Div. 2010)

Bland's participatory interest in the red SUV registered to Minitee stems from his occupancy of the vehicle at the time Officer Lorenzo first stopped it. His occupancy gave him dominion and use of the area in and around the vehicle where the police subsequently found the incriminatory evidence. This participatory interest continued, unabated, to that point in time when the police seized the vehicle and arrested Minitee and her codefendant.

Relying on Bruns, the State argues that Bland cannot show that he has a participatory interest in the vehicle because “there is no evidence in the record that [he] was even an occupant of the SUV prior to its seizure.” The State is mistaken. As noted, the record shows that Bland was an occupant of the SUV at the time Lorenzo ordered him to exit the vehicle. By Officer Gerardo's own account, he came upon Minitee and Jones next to the SUV just minutes after Lorenzo reported his encounter with Bland over the police radio and described the vehicle's make, model, and direction.

These facts are in sharp contrast to the salient facts in Bruns. As the Court emphasized in Bruns, the defendant did not have a proprietary or possessory interest in the vehicle that was searched. The defendant in Bruns argued that he had a “participatory interest in the weapons seized because they were used to commit the robbery for which he was charged.” In rejecting the defendant's argument, the Court noted that Bruns “was not a passenger in the vehicle and he was not in the vicinity of the vehicle at the time it was searched.” Ibid. With these key facts in mind, the Court held that a “generalized connection” to the evidence seized is not enough to confer standing based on a participatory interest. According to Bruns, to confer standing based on a participatory interest there “must be at a minimum some contemporary connection between the defendant and the place searched or the items seized.

Applying these principles to the facts in this case, we are satisfied that Bland has standing to challenge the propriety of the vehicle's warrantless search. His occupancy of the SUV just minutes before the police seized it conferred upon him the constitutionally required participatory interest to challenge the search of that vehicle.

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