The Different Levels of Information Officers Need When Investigating to Be Able to Properly Make an Arrest

State v. Macrae

Appellate Docket No.: A-1303-18T2

Decided October 6, 2020

Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In an unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey required a new trial when a trial court failed to provide out of court identification jury charges and only gave the jury in court identification jury charges, when police identified the defendant both out of court and in court during trial.

In State v. Macrae, detectives observed a known narcotics user and dealer engage in a suspected drug transaction with a woman in an alleyway.  Using binoculars, the detective viewed defendant in a Chevrolet Traverse get handed a clear plastic bag from the narcotics dealer in a another vehicle.  At the distance, the detective was unable to view the contents of the bag, no money was exchanged, and no doors opened.

Detectives followed the Traverse to a parking lot. When they knocked at the window and identified themselves as detectives, the defendant allegedly spontaneously uttered she smoked a blunt and there was a loaded handgun registered under her name in the center console.  The blunt was never found but the detective could smell the odor of both raw and burnt marijuana emanating from the Traverse.

The detectives searched the vehicle and recovered a loaded handgun.  A dog indicated the presence of narcotics and the defendant was cited for CDS and unlawful possession of the handgun.

Defendant moved to suppress the evidence found in the vehicle.  The judge found the detectives had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that defendant was engaged in a drug deal.  Although the detective could not see the contents of the bag, the judge found he could reasonably infer that a drug transaction had occurred.  The judge also found the detectives had probably cause to arrest the defendant after the spontaneous statements that were made, and probable cause to search for the handgun.  The judge found the statement was unforeseeable and spontaneous and not coerced. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The defendant appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed, ruling that the detective approaching the vehicle was a field inquiry, rather than a detention for an investigatory stop. Therefore the statement was uncoerced and gave detectives probable cause for the arrest and search, as cited by the trial court.

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.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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