State v. Reyes
Appellate Docket No.: A-0182-18T2
Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In an unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey heard argument on the issues of reasonable suspicion and unlawful search and seizure.
In State v. Reyes, the Grand Jury indicted defendant for possession of heroin, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1), and possession of that heroin with intent to distribute, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1), (b)(3). Defendant filed a motion to suppress arguing that the police did not have a lawful basis to initiate an investigative detention or to conduct a protective frisk for weapons. The trial judge convened an evidentiary hearing after which he denied defendant’s suppression motion. Defendant pled guilty to simple possession of heroin pursuant to a negotiated agreement in which the State agreed to dismiss the possession with-intent-to-distribute charge.
Defendant was part of a group sitting on steps in front of another person’s home. Officers in an unmarked car patrolled the area, as it was known as a high crime area. Police approached the group, asked if the individuals were allowed to sit on the steps, to which Defendant responded they were. The homeowner told the police that she did not give permission for them to sit on the steps. Police took Defendant back to the police car, performed a protective search of the Defendant’s person, and found heroin.
The Appellate Division agreed the police acted reasonable by approaching the group on the steps, as they can ask questions so long as the individuals believe they are free to walk away or ignore the questions. Police were also allowed to ask the homeowner about the individuals sitting on the steps.
The Appellate Division found that when the police escorted the Defendant to the police vehicle, this escalated from a field inquiry to an investigative detention, also known as a Terry stop. In order to perform a Terry stop, police must have a reasonable suspicion that an individual is committing a crime. The Appellate division found that there was no reasonable suspicion here.
The Appellate Division also found that it was no reasonable to search the Defendant’s person, as the police had no reasonable suspicion the Defendant was carrying a weapon. The fact that the Defendant was nervous, by itself, was not enough for the police to conduct the search. In addition, because the police had no original reasonable suspicion that the Defendant committed the crime, the search and finding of heroin would have to be suppressed as “fruits of the poisonous tree.”
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case involving motions to suppress. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to ensure prosecutors, police, and even judges follow the law.
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