The Different Levels of Information Officers Need to Properly Make an Arrest and Charge Someone with a Crime
State v. Alamilla
Appellate Docket No.: A-5952-17T1
Decided September 23, 2020
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In an unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed a trial court’s denial of a motion to suppress 15 soil bags of marijuana found in the back of a tractor trailer, after the driver blurted a confession after being confronted by law enforcement.
In State v. Alamilla, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officers were observing a parking lot known as a high drug-trafficking area. The officers, with years of experience of arrests involving tractor trailers distributing large quantities of drugs, observed a telephone call between a van and the tractor trailer. The van and tractor trailer left together. Officers followed. The van and tractor trailer stopped at a dead end, picked up another box truck, and then proceeded behind a warehouse.
At this warehouse, DEA officers, convinced from their years of experiencing that what they were witnessing was indeed a drug-trafficking scheme, confronted the individuals with their badges shown. Their guns were not drawn and they did not detain or arrest anyone. The officers asked defendant, the driver of the tractor trailer, what was in the truck. Defendant—who was not handcuffed or physically restrained in any way—responded “[c]ome on you already know [what we are doing]” and that “[y]ou know it’s weed [inside the tractor-trailer].” The officer asked if defendant would consent to a search and, after defendant signed a consent form, the officers saw the nineteen soil bags of marijuana, which were bumpy, vacuum-sealed, and lighter than the packaging indicated.
Defendant was arrested and would later make a motion to suppress the evidence based on an unlawful search. The trial court found that the officers had a reasonable suspicion, based off their experience, that a crime was being committed and therefore acted reasonable in performing a stop and confronting the defendant. Afterwards, defendant’s confession was made unrestrained and without force or coercion, so the officers were not required to read him his miranda rights. The confession and consent to search allowed officers to search the vehicle.
Defendant’s motion to suppress was denied. Defendant plead guilty to first-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (marijuana) with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(10)(a) and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1).
Defendant appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s ruling, finding that the officers had a reasonable suspicion the defendant was committing a crime, and probable cause was found after defendant’s confession and consent to search the vehicle. The motion to suppress was properly denied.
The importance in this case is understanding the different levels of information officers need when investigating to be able to properly make an arrest and charge someone with a crime. In order to observe or ask questions without any information, officers are permitted to do this so long as it is clear that the person can leave at any time and decline to answer. In order to physically stop someone and detain them, officers need a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person is committing a crime. Last, in order to arrest or for search and seizure, officers need probable cause through a warrant or circumstances that would ordinarily permit officers to get a warrant.
Knowing these levels of information is crucial. As in this circumstance, had the defendant not made an admission about the contents of the truck, and instead said nothing, officers would have had a much harder time lawfully obtaining the probable cause necessary for the search and seizure. The defendant’s confession and consent to search gave them everything they needed.
Remember, if you find yourself in a similar situation with officers asking questions it is best to say nothing.
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 uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make an arrest.
We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing criminal charges similar to this circumstance, 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.