What is the “Exclusionary Rule for unlawfully obtained evidence in New Jersey?


Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

[A]n investigative detention, also called a Terry stop 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.

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).

Ruling: How long can the police detain me on the side of eat road for a traffic stop or at someone’s home?  What is the “Exclusionary Rule for unlawfully obtained evidence in New Jersey?

“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.’” State v. Williams, 192 N.J. 1, 14 (2007) (quoting United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 348 (1974)). As this Court has opined, the exclusionary rule has a “two-fold purpose.” Shaw, 213 N.J. at 413. One “‘is to deter future unlawful police conduct’ by denying the prosecution the spoils of constitutional violations.” State v. Badessa, 185 N.J. 303, 310 (2005) (quoting State v. Evers, 175 N.J. 355, 376 (2003)). Under that purpose, “[t]he rule is calculated to prevent, not to repair. Its purpose is to deter — to compel respect for the constitutional guaranty in the only effectively available way — by removing the incentive to disregard it.” Elkins v. United States, 364 U.S. 206, 217 (1960) (citing Eleuteri v. Richman, 26 N.J. 506, 513 (1958)). The second purpose of the exclusionary rule “is to uphold judicial integrity by serving notice that our courts will not provide a forum for evidence procured by unconstitutional means.” Williams, 192 N.J. at 14. “Simply put, the exclusionary rule removes the profit motive for those officials who would violate the Constitution.” Shaw, 213 N.J. at 414. “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.’” Ibid. (quoting Williams, 192 N.J. at 15).

  1. Ruling

Applying those legal principles to the facts and circumstances of this case, we conclude that the detention of the motel room occupants, including Chisum and Woodard, was unconstitutional. We disagree with the Appellate Division’s view that the totality of the circumstances provided the police officers at the Crystal Inn Motel with an objectively reasonable suspicion that their safety was in danger, and that the correct identities of the ten occupants of the motel room had to be ascertained. After the determination was made not to issue a summons for a noise violation, the police officers’ decision to continue their investigation to ascertain the identities of every occupant of the room was misplaced.

We recognize that police officers should consider their surroundings, and that Officer Harris and other members of the Neptune Police Department knew the Crystal Inn Motel was a place where significant criminal activity took place. Nonetheless, the Crystal Inn’s reputation as a place where previous criminal activity transpired is unconnected to the circumstances surrounding a noise complaint concerning Room 221 on the night in question.

We have recognized that, 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.” Shaw, 213 N.J. at 420; see Maryland v. Buie, 494 U.S. 325, 334 n.2 (1990) (“Even in high crime areas, where the possibility that any given individual is armed is significant, Terry requires reasonable, individualized suspicion before a frisk for weapons can be conducted.” (emphasis added)). “[T]he random detention of an individual for the purpose of running a warrant check — or determining whether the person is wanted on a particular warrant — cannot be squared with values that inhere in the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Paragraph 7 of our State Constitution.” Shaw, 213 N.J. at 421.

Focusing on the specific facts of this case, the Neptune Police Department dispatched officers to the Crystal Inn Motel to investigate a noise complaint. Thereafter, the police officers identified themselves to the occupants of Room 221 and explained that they were there investigating a noise complaint. The officers then asked to speak to the renter of the room. Zykia Reevey came forward, identified herself as the renter, and invited the officers into Room 221. Reevey explained to the officers that she did not know that the music they were playing was too loud and disturbing others, and she immediately turned the volume of the music down. The police chose not to issue any summonses for the violation of a noise ordinance, and Officer Harris 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.”

We find that the police officers’ decision to continue to detain all ten occupants of the motel room after the ultimate determination was made not to issue any summonses for a noise violation was unconstitutional. 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. See Terry, 392 U.S. at 16; Rosario, 229 N.J. at 272; Rodriguez, 172 N.J. at 126. 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, particularly once the noise was abated and the mission of the noise complaint was completed. Therefore, the police officers in this instance were no longer allowed to detain the occupants of the motel room to conduct further investigation into those occupants. After the loud music was abated and the police chose not to issue a summons, submitting warrant checks was unnecessary and improper because doing so would do nothing to help confirm or undermine the police officers’ decision regarding the noise complaint.

Furthermore, as stated above, police officers are required to use the least intrusive means necessary in effectuating the purpose of an investigative detention, and such a detention cannot last any longer than necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop. See Coles, 218 N.J. at 344. The police officers in this instance clearly did not use the least intrusive means necessary to carry out their investigative detention, and they exceeded the time necessary to resolve the matter for which the investigative stop was made in the first place.

Although this Court recognizes that police safety is of paramount importance, it is insufficient justification for police officers to detain ten occupants of a motel room and run warrant checks on each of them simply because citizens violated a noise ordinance and then promptly abated the noise upon police arrival. To hold that a remedied noise violation is sufficient basis to detain citizens in order to run warrant checks would run contrary to this Court’s jurisprudence. That is to say, it would be both burdensome and problematic if at every public gathering where a noise complaint was reported, responding police officers would be allowed to detain and run warrant checks on each and every individual in attendance.

Because the investigative detention here was based on less than reasonable suspicion, an unlawful seizure took place contrary to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. 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.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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