State of New Jersey v. Robert L. Gillard
Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
On January 19, 2015, at about noon, Long Branch Detective Joseph Spitale went to Chelsea Avenue and the railroad tracks on a report that “they were selling heroin.”During the investigation, Spitale was a passenger in an undercover police car accompanied by three other officers. Spitale saw defendant, who he knew to live on Chelsea Avenue and went by an alias of “Biz”. Defendant noticed Spitale and left the scene in a gold Saturn car. The Saturn drove to the front of a liquor store and Spitale was dropped off at a vantage point where he could see a women and defendant interact. Defendant told the women in the Saturn to wait and eventually, defendant came back. The front passenger gave defendant money and defendant gave her a white object. The Saturn drove off and Spitale stopped defendant after the transaction. Spitale advised the other three officers that he had seen a drug transaction involving the front passenger of the Saturn. Gary Vecchione who was a Long Branch Police Officer in the unmarked police car parked where he could observe defendant approach the gold Saturn. After hearing from Spitale the officers continued to follow the car until the Saturn failed to stop at a stop sign. The police then conducted a vehicle stop and noticed the passenger put something in her mouth. She was told to open her mouth when the police went up to the vehicle. The women told the police she had purchased the heroin from defendant.
Defendant pled guilty to third-degree drug charges in three Monmouth County indictments: distribution of heroin, possession of heroin and possession of cocaine. On August 5, 2016, the judge sentenced defendant to concurrent five-year drug court probationary terms on the three convictions and dismissed all other counts in the three indictments.
On appeal, defendant argues:
POINT I: BECAUSE THE STATE DID NOT PROVE THAT OFFICERS HAD PROBABLE CAUSE FOR A WARRANTLESS SEARCH OF PASSENGER SHIRLEY KELL’S MOUTH, THE COURT ERRED BY DENYING MR. GILLIARD’S MOTION TO SUPPRESS.
The Appellate Court states, “the police had seen what they believed was a drug transaction involving the front seat passenger and had also observed the driver commit a traffic infraction. The police then saw the front seat passenger in the Saturn, who had been seen purchasing the suspected drug, place something in her mouth. The police had probable cause to believe the passenger, after being stopped, was trying to conceal the drugs she had just purchased.” The Appellate Court affirms the police’s decision ordering the passenger to open her mouth.