What is Probable Cause in NJ and what is Lawful Interaction on Behalf of Police? State v. Alamilla

State v. Alamilla

Appellate Docket No.: A-5952-17T1

Decided September 23, 2020

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

Another key to this decision is the standard of review by the appellate court, which is used in virtually every appellate appeal for trial court decisions.  In order to be successful on appeal you must be aware of the court’s efforts when it renders its decision.  When collecting the facts, the attorneys involved must be aware of this standard eyed by the trial court.

Here, the Appellate Division 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.  The court opened,

“In our review of the grant or denial of a motion to suppress, we “must defer” to the motion judge’s factual findings, “so long as those findings are supported by sufficient evidence in the record.” State v. Dunbar, 229 N.J. 521, 538 (2017) (quoting State v. Hubbard, 222 N.J. 249, 262 (2015)). We defer to those findings because they “are substantially influenced by [the judge’s] opportunity to hear and see the witnesses and to have the ‘feel’ of the case, which a reviewing court cannot enjoy.” State v. Lamb, 218 N.J. 300, 313 (2014) (quoting State v. Elders, 192 N.J. 224, 244 (2007)). We will disregard those findings only when a trial judge’s findings of fact are clearly mistaken and “the interests of justice demand intervention and correction.” State v. Hagans, 233 N.J. 30, 37-38 (2018) (quoting State v. Gamble, 218 N.J. 412, 425 (2014)). We review a motion judge’s legal conclusions de novo. Dunbar, 229 N.J. at 538; see also State v. Gandhi, 201 N.J. 161, 176 (2010).

Both the federal and State constitutions protect citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. See U.S. Const. amend. IV; see also N.J. Const. art. I, ¶ 7; State v. Terry, 232 N.J. 218, 231 (2018). “The test of reasonableness cannot be fixed by per se rules; each case must be decided on its own facts.” Terry, 232 N.J. at 231 (quoting South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 372-73 (1976)).

There are three types of interactions with law enforcement, each involving different constitutional implications depending on the event’s impact on an individual’s freedom to leave the scene. First, a “field inquiry is essentially a voluntary encounter between the police and a member of the public in which the police ask questions and do not compel an individual to answer.” State v. Rosario, 229 N.J. 263, 271 (2017). The individual is free to leave, therefore field inquiries do not require a well-grounded suspicion of criminal activity before commencement. Id. at 271-72; see also Elders, 192 N.J. at 246. Second, an investigatory stop or detention, sometimes referred to as a Terry stop, involves a temporary seizure that restricts a person’s movement. A Terry stop (Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)) implicates a constitutional requirement that there be “‘specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts,’ give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” Elders, 192 N.J. at 247 (quoting State v. Rodriguez, 172 N.J. 117, 126 (2002)); see also Rosario, 229 N.J. at 272. Third, an arrest requires “probable cause and generally [are] supported by an arrest warrant or by demonstration of grounds that would have justified one.” Rosario, 229 N.J. at 272.


Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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