Reasonableness Is the Relevant Standard to Use When Analyzing the Officer’s Initial Act That Led to the Warrantless Search

State of New Jersey v. M.A., Jr.

Docket No. A-0304-19

Decided October 4, 2022

Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided the defendant’s appeal of the trial court’s orders denying his motion to suppress, and barring use of the defense of necessity at trial. Defendant also appealed his sentence, arguing that the sentencing court failed to find certain mitigating factors and that resentencing is required in order to account for the youth mitigating factor under N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1(b)(14).

The facts of this matter are as follows: On June 23, 2015, a police officer pulled over a vehicle after noticing that one of the vehicle’s front headlights were not working properly. After approaching the vehicle from the passenger side, the officer saw a male driver and a female passenger in the front seat. The officer asked the driver that out of concern for his safety, that he lower the tinted rear windows. Before requesting the driver’s credentials, the officer noticed two male passengers in the rear seats. The officer then began conversing with the driver and noticed the female passenger behaving unusually. She was nervously smoking a cigarette and blowing the smoke in his direction. When the officer obtained the driver’s credentials, he detected an odor of burnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle. He inquired whether he could search the vehicle, and the driver consented in writing.

After backup arrived, all four individuals were removed from the vehicle. Eventually defendant, one of the rear seat occupants, was searched by an officer who felt a “hard metallic object” between his legs. The officer pulled out a handgun, with a single bullet in the chamber and no magazine. The officers also searched the other individuals and the car, but discovered no other weapons or contraband. Defendant was subsequently arrested.

After the arrest, the defendant provided a statement to the police. Defendant indicated that he had assisted the police in a previous matter, had subsequently been beaten up twice and shot at, received no assistance from police when he asked for protection, could not leave the state since he was on probation, and had obtained the firearm for protection. Soon thereafter, defendant pled guilt and then subsequently appealed.

On appeal, defendant contended that the officer who pulled over the vehicle that he was a passenger in had no articulable basis to direct the driver to lower the rear tinted windows, and that the court erred by not applying the heightened awareness of danger standard. Essentially, defendant argues that without that initial act by the officer, the chain of events which led to the gun seizure would not have occurred. Thus, any evidence derived after the officer directed the driver to lower the rear window would be inadmissible as fruit of the poisonous tree.

The State believes that reasonableness is the relevant standard to use when analyzing the officer’s initial act that led to the warrantless search. Reasonableness is determined by assessing, on the one hand, the degree to which a warrantless search intrudes on an individual’s privacy, and on the other, the degree to which it is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests.

Appellate Court determined that based on the totality of the information available to him at the time of the stop, the officer’s concern for his own safety was reasonable. The stop occurred at nighttime, and the Acura’s rear tinted windows prevented from seeing who, if anyone, was in the rear seat of the car. The trial court noted that although this was supposed to be a routine traffic stop for a broken headlight, traffic stops could be dangerous and the fact that there is more than one occupant of the vehicle increases the possible sources of harm to the officer.

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 evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 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.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the defendant in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.



Posted in

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

Leave a Comment