State of New Jersey v. Markies Wells: Motion to Suppress Evidence Seized as a Result of an Unlawful Search
Docket No. A-2335-19
Decided December 23, 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In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided defendant’s appeal from his convictions arising from a motor vehicle stop.
The facts of this case are as follows: In March 2017 around 5:30 p.m., officers were on patrol in an unmarked vehicle. The officers were in plain clothing with a police vest over the top with the word “police” clearly marked on the front and back. The officers pulled into the parking lot of a motel that was notorious as a high crime area and place where narcotic distribution arrests have been made in the past.
The officers observed a black Mercedes Benz with dark tinted windows back into a parking space. The driver, defendant, exited the vehicle and went inside the motel. After a few minutes, the defendant returned to his vehicle and drove towards the rear of the motel property. The officers drove back to the motel and two of the officers went inside to see if defendant had spoken to anyone. While waiting, the officer saw a tan vehicle enter the parking lot and drive to the rear of the property. The officers then drove to the rear property where they were passed by defendant’s vehicle and the tan vehicle as they exited the parking lot. The two vehicles proceeded to Highway 33 and the officers followed. Officers then conducted a motor vehicle stop on defendant’s vehicle, but not the tan vehicle.
Defendant complied with orders to produce his driving credentials, but officers noted that defendant was aggressive, antagonistic, angry and loud throughout the encounter. Defendant was ordered out of the vehicle, which he also complied with, and was told that he was pulled over because of his tinted windows and behavior while at the motel. Defendant exercised his right to remain silent in response to the officers’ questions about his activity at the motel, but after initially refusing to a search of his vehicle, defendant eventually consented once an officer stated that if he refused, a drug detection K-9 would be summoned to the scene. The officers did not locate any contraband during the search, but one of the officers noticed the defendant repeatedly placing his hands in his pants pocket and conducted a protective frisk which revealed what felt like a plastic package to the officer. Defendant was subsequently strip searched at the station, which revealed two clear plastic bags containing cocaine and marijuana. Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized unlawfully, which was denied by the trial court. Defendant appealed.
On appeal, defendant contended that the trial judge erred in denying his motion to suppress the CDS that was first felt during the roadside frisk for weapons and later seized during the strip search at the police station. Defendant argued that (1) his vehicle was stopped unlawfully, (2) officers unlawfully prolonged the investigative detention so that it became a de facto arrest not supported by probable cause, and (3) the officers violated his constitutional rights by continuing to pose questions concerning his reason for being at the motel after he asserted his right to remain silent.
The Appellate Court determined that (1) the officers did not have an objectively reasonable basis to suspect criminal activity before they stopped defendant’s vehicle for a tinted windows violation, and (2) nothing the officers learned after the stop was initiated caused reasonable suspicion to ripen before they asked for consent to search the vehicle. The court referenced State v. Carty, which discusses the circumstances under which police may make a request to search a defendant’s vehicle. Under Carty, “consent searches following a lawful stop of a motor vehicle should not be deemed valid . . . unless there is reasonable and articulable suspicion to believe that an errant motorist or passenger has engaged in, or is about to engage in, criminal activity.” In this case, the Appellate Court concluded that the request for consent improperly prolonged the stop in violation of Carty, and the discovery of the suspected CDS in defendant’s groin area was a “fruit” of the Carty violation. Accordingly, the court reversed the denial of defendant’s motion to suppress and remanded the matter.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to motions to suppress evidence seized as a result of an unlawful 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.
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