State v. Graham

State v. Graham

Docket No. A-4697-17T2

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

Late one evening in March 2014, a police officer pulled over the defendant, Mr. Graham, for a broken headlight and tinted front windows. When the defendant rolled down his window, the officer testified to smelling a strong odor of raw marijuana, saw air fresheners clipped to the vents, and an aerosol can of air freshener between the driver’s seat and the center console. The officer also testified to the defendant acting “very short and dismissive” when responding to questions. After instructing Mr. Graham to step out of the vehicle and patting him down for his own safety, the officer learned Mr. Graham had no outstanding warrants, but several drug convictions after running his credentials. The officer proceeded to ask Mr. Graham for his consent to search the vehicle, which he refused. After about fifteen (15) minutes, the dog handler, Sheriff’s Officer Robert Mantone, arrived on the scene with his K-9, Mike, who “hit” on two locations on the outside of the car. Following the issuance of a warrant, police discovered a loaded Glock in the center console, a high capacity magazine, and a black ski mask. The police did not find marijuana or any other drugs in the car. Following the denial of his motion to suppress evidence seized in a warrantless search, the defendant was found guilty by a jury of second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b); fourth-degree transportation of a large capacity ammunition magazine, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-9(h); and second-degree certain persons offense, N.J.S.A 2C:39-7(b).

The defendant appealed his conviction, raising the sole issue that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a constitutionally infirm search. Mr. Graham argued that at no time did the police officer detect an odor of marijuana nor were the answers to questions uttered by him short and dismissive. The defendant maintained that the trial court denied his suppression motion despite the clear evidence that the alleged odor of marijuana was fabricated to underpin a K-9 sniff; the required training records were not maintained, neither the K-9 nor its handler were properly trained, and no form of controlled dangerous substances (CDS) were found in the vehicle during the illegal search.

The appellate court rejected Mr. Graham’s arguments and affirmed his conviction. They reasoned that in his appeal, the defendant did no more than challenge the trial court judge’s credibility, which the appellate court stated they were in no position to second-guess. The appellate court believed that the trial court judge’s findings were amply supported by the record, and her finding that the arresting officer credibly testified he smelled raw marijuana in the defendant’s car would itself support a finding of probable cause sufficient to support the search warrant without the dog sniff. The appellate court also agreed with the trial judge’s finding that although marijuana was not ultimately discovered in the defendant’s car despite the officer smelling it and the dog alerting to it, those factors do not invalidate the officer’s probable cause to suspect it was there. The trial court judge stated that, “there was simply no evidence in the record to support a finding that the police fabricated the evidence which forms the basis for the search warrant in this case.”

At Hark & Hark we represent clients in criminal matters who were involved with motor vehicle stops including a possible impermissible search of the vehicle. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to suppress such weapon and/or drug possession evidence. We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing any type of criminal charge, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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