Officers Conducted a Motor Vehicle Stop and Found a Firearm Upon Searching for the Driver’s Credentials After a Refusal
Appellate Docket No.: A-4238-19
Decided December 8, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reversed a denial of a motion to suppress after officers conducted a motor vehicle stop and found a firearm upon searching for the driver’s credentials after a refusal.
In State v. Reid, during the evening of May 25, 2019, Officer Joseph Devlin of the Willingboro Police Department attempted to stop a motor vehicle after observing that it was being operated with illegally tinted windows. Before he had the opportunity to effectuate the stop, the car was driven into a home’s driveway. The four occupants then exited the vehicle and headed towards the house; three walked to the backyard and one went into the house. At some point prior to the occupants entering the home, the officer activated his vehicle’s overhead lights and ordered the occupants to return to the vehicle. Devlin testified that, although it could not be heard on his body cam video, one of the occupants responded by yelling “No, fuck you.” All of them ignored his command.
. As Kowalski spoke to the homeowner and, before the homeowner walked away, Devlin announced that he was going to “run the vehicle registration.” After Devlin started to walk away, another responding officer, Officer Hankey, asked if “the car is locked.” Devlin then stopped and opened the unlocked car without stating to anyone that he was going to search for credentials. Once he opened the car’s door, he confirmed to Hankey that it had not been locked and immediately, without ever looking in the vehicle’s glove compartment or center console, Devlin called out, “Got a gun in the driver[‘s] door.”
Defendant was later charged with second-degree possession of a weapon for unlawful purposes, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a)(1), second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b)(1), fourth-degree prohibited weapons and devices, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(f)(2), fourth-degree prohibited weapons and devices, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(j), third-degree receiving stolen property, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7(a), and fourth-degree obstruction of the administration of law, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a).
Defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing an improper search of defendant’s vehicle. The trial court disagreed, finding a proper motor vehicle stop and subsequent search for credentials upon the driver and occupant refusal to submit same. Defendant appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed the denial of the motion, finding that the officers must have given defendant the opportunity to provide the credentials prior to searching for same. What’s more, the officers could have run the license plates and found the information that way, without searching the vehicle.
This case is important to understand the scope of a police investigation. Here, a traffic stop was conducted after a lawful traffic stop. The officer stated demands for the driver and occupants to return to the vehicle parked in a private driveway. They ignored the officer and prior to requesting credentials, the officer opened the door finding the firearm. The officers must have at least requested for the information and being denied same prior to the warrantless search.
If you or someone you know have been charged with any indictable offense or disorderly persons involving a search and/or questioning of police, contact the experienced attorney at Hark & Hark to ensure you are adequately defended, otherwise you could have negative impacts on your case like the defendant above.
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