State v. Evans – “Plain Feel” Doctrine
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
On January 4, 2012, Officer Felipe Laboy of the Vineland Police Department started his evening shift with creating a list of outstanding warrants in the area. One of the suspects on the warrant list was defendant Robert L. Evans. The defendant was on the list due to failure to pay outstanding traffic fines. Laboy and his partner patrolled two specific parking lots which were the Days Inn and Denny’s. Both were known areas for narcotics, trespassing, and prostitution. Right after midnight, Laboy recognized defendant who happened to be pulling into a parking space in the Days Inn parking lot. Once the defendant realized the police were onto him, the defendant pulled out of the parking lot and drove away. Laboy and his partner followed Evans and pulled him over. Evans was arrested after not being able to provide a driver’s license as well as being on the list for outstanding warrants. Laboy proceeded with a pat down of the defendant since he was under arrest. During the search, Laboy found $2,000 worth of cash and noticed a bulge in the groin area. Laboy described the bulge as a “rocklike substance.” When the sergeant arrived on the scene, he gave Laboy the okay to transport defendant to the police station and strip search him. During the strip search, Laboy found two plastic bags one contained nine baggies of heroin and the other contained two bags of crack cocaine. After finding the drugs on the strip search, Laboy received a warrant to search the car. When the Police secured a search warrant for the car they found a handgun loaded with hollow-point bullets.
In March 2012, a grand jury charged Evans with various drug and weapons offenses. Evans sought to suppress the evidence as a violation of the Strip Search Act and argued that Laboy had a duty to determine the subject of the warrant before arresting him.
The judge found that the stop and arrest of the defendant for the active warrant was permissible. The judge also found the “plain feel” doctrine provided a basis to conduct a strip search. The judge then denied the motion to suppress because of the “plain feel” doctrine. Evans then appealed this case to the Appellate Court which reversed the judge’s decision. The Appellate Court found that Laboy had probable cause to suspect Evans had contraband in his pants and that the “plain feel” doctrine is a viable exception to the warrant requirement. However, the panel disagreed that Laboy acted reasonably in performing the strip search on Evans. This decision was then appealed to the NJ Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court found that the panel erred in its application of the “plain feel” doctrine. Since, Laboy has witnessed many of instances where there is concealed contraband in the same area as Evans. The finding of 2000$, the consistent spot where drug dealers or users keep the crack cocaine, and the experience of Officer Laboy the “plain feel” doctrine is accepted by the Supreme court. They reverse the Appellate Court and affirm the original judge’s decision in a 7-0 decision.
Here at Hark & Hark Law Offices we have experience representing defendants in these types of matters. Mr. Hark has had many drug relative cases throughout his time practicing law. If you have been pulled over by a cop and you have been searched without a warrant or a cop claimed he/she “smelled” something, please get in contact with Mr. Hark as soon as possible. You can reach him by email, website or by phone 866-427-5529.