Understanding the Different Levels of Information Officers Need When Investigating to Be Able to Properly Make an Arrest and Charge Someone with a Crime
Appellate Docket No.: A-3746-18
Decided February 16, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed whether a warrantless search was appropriate recovering cocaine from a trunk after officers continued to smell raw marijuana emanating from the vehicle despite already finding marijuana.
In State v. Williams, Trooper Redrow was on patrol on the Atlantic City Expressway. As he drove, a BMW approached him from behind at a high rate of speed. The trooper activated his radar and received readings ranging from eighty-eight to ninety-five miles per hour. Because of the obvious speeding violation, Trooper Redrow performed a motor vehicle stop of the BMW.
There were four passengers in the BMW. Defendant was sitting in the front passenger seat of the car, and the other occupants were defendant’s brothers. Trooper Redrow told the men he could smell alcohol and raw marijuana coming from the vehicle. Troopers Golden and Ray then arrived to assist Trooper Redrow. After confirming that none of the occupants possessed a medical marijuana card, the troopers removed the four occupants from the BMW and placed them under arrest for suspected marijuana possession.
Trooper Redrow brought defendant to his patrol car so he could be searched and secured in the vehicle. Trooper Golden searched defendant and found a cigarette box in defendant’s pocket that contained marijuana. Defendant then admitted there was “dope” in his underpants, but he refused to consent to a search of that area.
When he learned that defendant was carrying heroin, Trooper Redrow was concerned that it might contain fentanyl and, if the packaging broke, defendant could be harmed if the drug touched his skin. The trooper attempted to shake defendant’s sweat pants to dislodge the heroin so it would fall through his pants leg to the ground. However, defendant had stored the drugs in a pocket at the front of his underpants. Trooper Redrow then stretched open the elastic band of defendant’s underpants from the top and was able to retrieve 103 wax-fold bundles of heroin from the pocket.
Trooper Redrow still smelled raw marijuana coming from the BMW. Troopers Redrow and Ray searched the passenger compartment of the car and found a partially burnt marijuana cigarette and a “large amount of cash” under the front seat of the car. Because the vehicle still smelled of raw marijuana after these items were removed, Trooper Redrow looked inside the BMW’s trunk in an attempt to locate the source of the scent. In the trunk, the trooper found a gym bag containing cocaine and a digital scale. Defendant admitted that the bag of cocaine belonged to him.
Defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence as a result of an unlawful search. The trial judge determined the heroin found was suppressed because a strip search was not properly performed. The trial judge denied the motion to suppress the evidence found in the trunk. Defendant appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision, ruling that the officers’ continued detection of raw marijuana gave them probable cause to search the vehicle, even leading to the cocaine found in the trunk.
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, officers can perform a protective sweep incident to an arrest. Often times this is searching a person or a vehicle for weapons or something that the defendant could easily reach during an arrest. Going into defendant’s home after arresting him outside and not inside prevented officers from further searching defendant’s home to secure the evidence.
If you or someone you know was in a situation similar to this, contact Hark & Hark today.
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.
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