Suppression of Evidence in Court When Wrongly Obtained / Illegal Search and Seizure

State v. Calcott:

Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

Defendant traveled on a private jet by himself carrying two leather briefcases and two rectangular containers, one three by four feet, the other slightly smaller. After speaking with defendant before departure, the pilot contacted the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) regarding his suspicion defendant was transporting contraband. When a port authority officer asked defendant for permission to search the containers, he refused. Defendant asked if he was under arrest, and the officers told him he was free to go, but the containers would be subjected to a “sniff” by a canine unit. The port authority officer told defendant if the sniff proved negative, he would be free to leave with the containers. Defendant did not want to wait, so he left the terminal at approximately 9:30 p.m., about twenty minutes after he disembarked from the plane. After arranging for defendant to be followed and surveilled, the port authority officer called in a K-9 unit which arrived at approximately 10:29 p.m. Within minutes the dog alerted to the presence of narcotics. A search warrant was thereafter obtained, the containers opened, and 109 pounds of marijuana were found inside.

Defendant appealed from the denial of his motion to suppress evidence and his sentence entered following a negotiated guilty plea to first-degree possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Pursuant to the plea agreement, a second count of possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana was dismissed. Defendant was sentenced as a second-degree offender to a flat term of seven and one-half years, along with fines and penalties.

On appeal, defendant challenged the sufficiency of probable cause to seize and search the parcels he had brought on board a chartered private plane. The New Jersey Supreme Court has stated officers must have reasonable and articulable suspicion to hold a suspect beyond the time necessary for a routine traffic stop. State v. Dunbar, 229 N.J. 521, 540 (2017). The court noted that once these officers had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to subject defendant’s luggage to a canine sniff, defendant was not even detained, and it would have been easy for him to return to airport to recover his luggage. The delay between stop and sniff was slightly over an hour, which the court stated was not unreasonable since the officers allowed defendant to go on his way after a few minutes.

The court rejected defendant’s arguments and affirmed the denial of his suppression motion and his judgment of sentence. The court acknowledged that law enforcement’s holding of defendant’s luggage to conduct a canine sniff constituted a seizure. However, the court held that the length of time in which defendant’s parcels were held by law enforcement was not excessive and in any event was supported by probable cause when defendant’s story about the contents of the parcels failed to check out, and given defendant’s other behavior and demeanor, including being the single passenger on a private plane chartered for four people, giving the pilot a false name, and accusing the investigating officers of being DEA agents. The court also noted that a canine sniff was not a search. Furthermore, the court stated that defendant was not detained by investigating officers and could have returned to the airport to retrieve his luggage.

At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for appeals in Superior Court for issues like the present case pertaining to the suppression of wrongly obtained evidence in court. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation so that they receive the most favorable outcome as a result.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing situation where law enforcement is trying to use illegally obtained evidence against you in a court of law, 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.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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