What is an ‘unreasonable delay’ of a citizen by the police during an investigatory stop? Does a “Terry Stop” allow unlimited delay by the police in N.J.?


Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

SUMMARY: In this case, police officers responded to a simple noise complaint at a motel room. They arrived at the scene and did NOT issue any municipal ordinance summons for any violations because the renter of the room immediately complied with their request to turn down the music. However, regardless of the renter’s cooperation, the Neptune police commenced an extended investigatory detention on a group of ten people and ran warrant checks on them without any probable cause of any criminal activity. More than twenty minutes into the detention, police arrested Deyvon Chisum for an outstanding warrant and discovered a concealed firearm on him. They then conducted pat-down searches on the remaining occupants and found a firearm on defendant Keshown Woodard. The trial court denied defendants’ motions to suppress the firearms, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The Court reviews that denial.

The Facts  Shortly before midnight on February 7, 2014, two Neptune police officers, Officer Harris and Officer Sibole, were dispatched to the Crystal Inn Motel to investigate a noise complaint. Officer Harris was familiar with the Crystal Inn Motel based on prior calls to the motel and the motel’s reputation as a site where criminal activity took place. (One of the key facts the police in Nepture, Atlantic City, Cherry Hill, Bridgeton, Vineland, Trenton, Pemberton, Willingboro, Elizabeth, Newark, Camden City, Lindenwold, and all other local town police rely upon when they show up at these ‘known locations’ is that these local town spots are alway’s areas of frequent criminal activity which includes drug deals weapons offenses, fights, and other activity fore which they are often called to the location.  Officer Harris was honest in his testimony and stated he could hear “loud music” and “multiple voices” coming from inside Room 221. He identified himself as a police officer and informed the occupants that the police were there in response to a noise complaint. From his vantage point, Officer Harris could see “about ten people” in the room. Officer Harris then asked to speak to the renter of the room, at which time Zykia Reevey identified herself as that person. She apologized for the noise and invited the officers inside. Around that time, three back-up officers arrived. Officer Harris, Officer Sibole, and one of the back-up officers entered the room, while the two other officers remained in the hallway as a safety precaution. Officer Harris spoke to Reevey, who lowered the volume of the music at the officer’s request.

The officers then asked Reevey and the other occupants of the room for their identification. The officers relayed the occupants’ information to dispatch to check for outstanding warrants. Officer Harris stated that the occupants of the room were not allowed to leave until the results of their individual warrant checks came back. The occupants were released from the scene on an individual basis, as each was cleared by the dispatcher.

Officer Harris did not issue any noise violation summons. He testified that the “investigation was complete when [Reevey] agreed to turn the noise down and [he] decided not to give her a summons for the ordinance violation.” In other words, the reason they were called to the scene no longer applied and there was no ‘new’ criminal activity they were investigating and they did not observe any new criminal activity while they were there such as smelling burnt or raw marijuana. When asked, however, why he and the other officers did not leave once Reevey turned the music down, Officer Harris explained that it is standard police practice to obtain a person’s identification in the course of issuing a summons for violation of a noise ordinance. According to Officer Harris, one of the reasons that identification is obtained is in the event of a callback to that location. The officers detained the occupants for a total of about twenty minutes while awaiting the results of the warrant checks.

The results of the warrant checks began to come back at 12:21 a.m., and at least three individuals were released. Woodard was cleared at 12:23 a.m. but either chose to stay on the premises or was not released. The warrant check for Chisum came back positive for warrants at 12:32 a.m., and he was placed under arrest. After handcuffing Chisum and escorting him into the hallway, Officer Harris conducted a search incident to arrest and patted Chisum down for weapons, revealing a handgun tucked into his waistband. The handgun was retrieved, and Chisum was secured in the hallway. Officer Harris ordered the remaining occupants in Room 221 to place their hands above their heads and informed them that they would all be patted down for weapons. The pat-down of Woodard revealed that he also possessed a handgun. The handgun was seized, and Woodard was placed under arrest. Chisum and Woodard were indicted for weapons offenses.

The trial court denied defendants’ motions to suppress the evidence. Chisum pled guilty to one weapons charge; Woodard pled guilty to one weapons offense and to a drug possession offense arising from an unrelated indictment. The Appellate Division panel affirmed. The Court granted defendants’ petitions for certification “limited to the issues of whether the police were authorized to detain the defendants and to conduct pat-down searches for weapons.” 232 N.J. 88 (2018).

The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the trial court and the appellate division finding that: 

  1. Once the renter of the motel room lowered the volume of the music and the police declined to issue summonses, the police no longer had any reasonable suspicion that would justify the continued detention of the room’s occupants.
  2. Once the noise was abated, the police no longer had an independent basis to detain the occupants, or a basis to run warrant checks on them. Such action was unlawful.
  3. And because the detention and warrant checks were unlawful, the subsequent pat-down of Woodard was also improper.


  1. Warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively invalid as contrary to the United States and the New Jersey Constitutions, and the State bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a warrantless search or seizure falls within one of the few well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement. One such exception is an investigatory stop of a person. An investigative detention, also called a Terry stop, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), or an investigatory stop, occurs during a police encounter when an objectively reasonable person would feel that his or her right to move has been restricted.

An investigative detention that is premised on less than reasonable and articulable suspicion is an unlawful seizure, and evidence discovered during the course of an unconstitutional detention is subject to the exclusionary rule. (pp. 16-19)

  1. There is no rigid time limitation on Terry stops. However, an investigatory detention may become too long if it involves a delay unnecessary to the legitimate investigation of the law enforcement officers. The reasonableness of a continued detention is determined through application of a two-pronged inquiry. First, the detention must have been reasonable at its inception. Second, the scope of the continued detention must be reasonably related to the justification for the initial interference. Thus, the detention must be reasonable both at its inception and throughout its entire execution. A seizure that is lawful at its inception can violate the Fourth Amendment if its manner of execution unreasonably infringes interests protected by the Constitution. Therefore, in assessing whether a detention is too long in duration to be justified as an investigative stop, it is appropriate to examine whether the police diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly, during which time it was necessary to detain the defendant. (pp. 19-21)
  2. The exclusionary rule is a judicially created remedy designed to safeguard the right of the people to be to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It has a two-fold purpose. One is to deter future unlawful police conduct by denying the prosecution the spoils of constitutional violations. The second purpose is to uphold judicial integrity by serving notice that our courts will not provide a forum for evidence procured by unconstitutional means. Because of the high price exacted by suppressing evidence, the exclusionary rule is applied to those circumstances where its remedial objectives can best be achieved. (pp. 21-22)
  3. Applying those legal principles to the facts and circumstances of this case, the Court concludes that the detention of the motel room occupants, including Chisum and Woodard, was unconstitutional. Just because a location to which police officers are dispatched is a high-crime area does not mean that the residents in that area have lesser constitutional protection from random stops. The investigative detention in this instance, like all investigatory detentions, required that the officers reasonably and particularly suspected that the occupants in Room 221 engaged in, or were about to engage in, some form of criminal activity. Because the officers exercised their own discretion and declined to issue a summons for a noise violation, they essentially concluded that the occupants of Room 221 were not engaging in any criminal activity. Moreover, there is no evidence in the record that any occupants in Room 221 were about to engage in some form of criminal activity. Because the investigative detention here was based on less than reasonable suspicion, an unlawful seizure took place. The firearm discovered on Chisum in the search incident to arrest is therefore subject to the exclusionary rule. Consequently, the need to pat-down Woodard after finding the firearm on Chisum was also unnecessary, and the firearm found on Woodard is also subject to the exclusionary rule. (pp. 22-26)

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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