Understanding the Different Requirements Officers Need at Various Levels of Searches
Decided April 26, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In an unpublished decision, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed whether defendant was properly questioned and a witness was properly detained after a motor vehicle stop led to an investigation of a shooting, implicating the defendant.
In State v. Kee, defendant and three other people were celebrating defendant’s birthday. Before leaving their house, defendant and one other person walked away and told the others they’d be right back. The others heard gunshots, the defendant returned and asked for the backseat passenger to hold a gun he had. Defendant left the area at a high rate of speed.
Officers observed defendant’s high rate of speed and initiated a motor vehicle stop. When asking the defendant where he was going, officers received information over the radio about a shooting that had just occurred in the area that defendant was leaving. Defendant was asked to leave the car and was questioned about his whereabouts. Defendant eventually stated the reason they were leaving was because they heard the gunshots.
During the stop, all occupants were placed in different police vehicles. The backseat passenger who was still holding the gun, hid it under the cushion of the police vehicle. Upon routine inspection of the vehicle a week later, the police located the gun and defendant was arrested and charged.
Defendant made a motion to suppress his statement to police as well as the gun that was found because of the back seat passenger’s unlawful detention. The motion judge denied the motions, ruling that the questions to defendant were part of an investigation, and not an interrogation, which would require the reading of defendant’s Miranda rights. In addition, the back seat passenger was lawfully placed in the back of the police vehicle as part of this investigation. Although the passenger was held for several hours, she hid the gun within five minutes of being in the car, thus even if the detention became unlawful due to an unreasonable delay, the gun was hidden during the portion that was lawful.
Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed on the same grounds. The Court elaborated that police were allowed to expand their investigation and questions upon finding out information regarding a shooting, and it did not require the detention or reading of Miranda rights to any of the occupants. In addition, the backseat passenger was lawfully detained as a part of this questioning and the gun was hidden during this lawful investigatory detention.
The importance in this case is understanding the different requirements officers need at various levels of searches. To initiate a traffic stop, police only need a reasonable articulable suspicion that an individual is committing a crime or traffic offense. Once stopped, police may ask questions related to the traffic stop. If police officers gain more information, such as information about a shooting or they can see drugs in the car, they may expand their questioning regarding those issues. In order to arrest someone, police need probable cause that the individual is committing a crime – a higher standard than reasonable suspicion. Of course, if officers obtain a warrant, they may do all of these things without these requirements.
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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