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Jersey Police Officer’s Search Exceeded Scope of Investigatory Stop

30
Aug
2011

by in Criminal Appeals

State v. Tyson R. Privott, ? N.J. ?, 2010 N.J. LEXIS ? (June 29, 2010) – Appellate Division opinion suppressing evidence affirmed.

“In this case, we must determine whether the police had reasonable suspicion to subject defendant to an investigatory detention, and if so, whether the resultant search was conducted in a reasonable manner…. We hold that the totality of the circumstances justified an investigatory stop, but that because the search was not limited in scope to an intrusion reasonably designed to protect the officer and to discover a weapon, the fruits of the search must be suppressed…. Here, the relevant circumstances extend well-beyond an isolated anonymous tip of man with a gun at a particular location. As the officer approached and made eye contact with defendant, who partially matched the description given by the anonymous informant, the officer recognized defendant from prior narcotic arrests. The officer also knew that defendant was associated with violent gangs that were responsible for recent shootings in the area…. Defendant appeared nervous, walked away from the officer, and moved one hand towards his waistband. From his extensive experience in the field, the officer was aware that the waistband is an area commonly used by armed persons to conceal a weapon. Based on the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that there were specific and particularized reasons for the officer to conduct an investigatory stop…. Indeed, the same conduct that justifies an investigatory stop may also present the officer with a specific and particularized reason to believe that the suspect is armed…. That is the situation presented here. Specifically, when defendant walked away and placed his hands near his waistband, a reasonable officer with the background knowledge of the conditions in that area, and who had received an anonymous tip of a man with a gun, would have an objectively reasonable concern for his or her safety. Thus, we conclude that the totality of circumstances justified the officer’s decision to frisk defendant…. When stopped, defendant placed his hands against a fence as instructed by the officer. A reasonable search, as well as the least intrusive maneuver needed to protect the safety of the officer against a possible weapon, would have been the traditional pat-down search of defendant’s outer clothing. That did not occur. Rather, the police officer lifted defendant’s tee-shirt to expose defendant’s stomach, and in doing so, observed a plastic bag with suspected drugs in the waistband of defendant’s pants. That maneuver exceeded the scope of the patdown search needed to protect the officer against defendant having a weapon and was akin to a generalized cursory search of defendant that is not condoned.”

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