State of New Jersey v. Christopher Tolbert and Suppressing Evidence Seized as the Result of a Warrantless Search
State of New Jersey v. Christopher Tolbert
Docket No. A-1099-21
Decided December 12, 2022
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal from an order denying his motion to suppress evidence seized as the result of a warrantless search and his sentence.
Officers were patrolling a high drug and crime area when they observed defendant exit the front passenger side of a vehicle while simultaneously stuffing a clear baggie containing multiple objects down his pants. His co-defendant exited the driver’s side door and was also stuffing objects in his pants. The two men shut the vehicle doors and attempted to walk away once they noticed the police officers. The officers detected a strong odor of burnt marijuana when they approached the vehicle. Both of the men were placed and custody. Officers located heroin, cocaine, and cash on the defendant’s person. CDS and cash was also found on the co-defendant. Defendant had possession of the vehicle’s key even though he was the passenger, and both men claimed they did not know who owned the vehicle. A handgun was also recovered in the glove compartment after a search of the vehicle. No marijuana was recovered from either individual or the vehicle.
Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized as the result of the warrantless search. Defendant contended that the officers had no grounds to conduct an investigatory stop and claimed that it was impossible for the officers to have detected the odor of burnt marijuana because the windows and doors were closed before the officers exited their vehicle. Defendant further argued that neither he nor his co-defendant presented any threat or danger to the officers to warrant a search; officers did not report either man was intoxicated; and even if officers smelled marijuana, it would not be a basis for search. The trial judge ultimately concluded that the smell of marijuana from the vehicle and the defendants gave the detectives probable cause to arrest and then proceed to search defendant, and the odor emanating from the vehicle justified its search. The court stated that although the officers recovered no marijuana, the outcome is still the same since the physical state of marijuana is destroyed when set ablaze. The judge articulated that the odor of burnt marijuana emanating from the vehicle and both men, whom officers had just seen exiting the vehicle, created an inference there was marijuana in the vehicle and that it had been smoked recently. The trial judge then found aggravating factors three, six and nine, denied credit for time served on electronic monitoring since defendant fled the state and sentenced defendant in accordance with the plea agreement. Defendant appealed.
On appeal, defendant argued that the police lacked probable cause that the vehicle contained contraband and that defendant had committed an offense. He also argued that if the smell of marijuana provided probable cause that defendant had committed an offense, that offense was not committed in the officer’s presence and therefore could not support an arrest, let alone a custodial arrest and search incident to that arrest. Ultimately, the Appellate Court concluded that the officer had probable cause to search defendant based on the odor of marijuana coming from both men and the car, because he had probable cause to believe defendant was in possession of marijuana and that other contraband might be present. Therefore, the court found that the trial court did not err in finding the officers conducted a valid search.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining suppressing evidence seized as the result of a warrantless search. 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.
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