Police Did Not Have Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion to Justify the Stop
Docket No. A-1065-19
Decided November 9, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal of the denial of his motion to suppress physical evidence without a warrant.
In November 2015, the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Organized Crime and Narcotics Task Force received information from the DEA about a federal investigation that had ties to Somerset County. The investigation was based in Indiana and led to a seizure there of a significant amount of methamphetamine. Following up on this seizure led the DEA agents to New Jersey where they learned that a New Brunswick address and a white Infiniti SUV could be connected to their investigation. The DEA agents observed the aforementioned vehicle leave and head to Franklin Township.
Three days later, a team of 12-13 Task Force officers conducted surveillance where the vehicle was located. the DEA provided the local Task Force with the street address only, so they were not able to surveil a specific property. They were assigned the responsibility of identifying the property where people exit from and enter the suspected white SUV. About an hour into the surveillance, noting no suspicious activity, a detective went for a closer look at the vehicle and saw a man sleeping. Eventually, two men left a Ralph St. home and approach the SUV. One of the individuals was holding a bag. The men, including defendant, were not acting suspiciously as they walked towards the SUV, but were taken down once they reached the vehicle.
At the suppression hearing in March 2019, detectives testified that they did not know the names of the subjects before approaching the SUV. The detective who approached defendant, who was standing near the rear of the vehicle, testified that when he ordered defendant to take his hands out of his pockets, defendant admitted that “I got something on me” and removed a clear bag with a white powdered substance from his pocket. The officer then read defendant his Miranda rights and placed him into custody. Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence alleging that the police seized evidence from him through an improper warrantless search. The trial court denied the motion, the defendant pled guilty and then subsequently appealed.
On appeal, defendant contended that the officers did not have reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity to justify their investigatory stop, and the officers’ testimony established that he had been functionally arrested prior to the seizure of the seizure of the evidence. The Appellate Court determined that defendant was subjected to an investigatory stop, and the officers who conducted the stop were required to have reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity to proceed. Under the totality of the circumstances, the Appellate Court concluded that there were not sufficient facts in the record to cause an objectively reasonable police officer to have an articulable suspicion of defendant sufficient to stop him at the car. As the court notes, the police officers did not know who the defendant was and had not seen him engage in suspicious activity when the taken down order was given. The Appellate Court did not analyze the fact that defendant “voluntarily surrendered” the seized contraband since they did not find that the police had reasonable articulable suspicion to justify the stop in the first place. Thus, the trial court’s ruling was reversed and defendant’s guilty plea and sentence were vacated.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients for appeals in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to motions to suppress physical evidence obtained without a warrant. 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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