State v. Christopher Felix, unpublished opinion, App. Div. Docket No. A-2788-08T4 (April 8, 2010) – Conviction reversed, suppression ordered. “Initially, the encounter with Felix amounted to only a field inquiry, as Holman and then Nanos approached him and began asking him questions….
We discern no illegality or bad faith in the field inquiry here, at least in its initial phases…. However, the initial field inquiry in this case progressed into an investigatory stop under Terry. An investigatory stop, unlike a field inquiry, is characterized by a detention in which the person approached by a police officer would not reasonably feel free to leave, even though the encounter falls short of a formal arrest….
Nanos’s specific question, asking whether Felix ‘had anything illegal on his person,’ escalated the field inquiry into a Terry investigatory stop, by insinuating that Felix might have contraband in his possession…. Consequently, the motion judge’s determination that Nanos’s question to Felix about whether he had anything illegal in his possession was ‘innocuous’ and consistent with Terry was incorrect as a matter of law….
Nanos asked the question after he had ‘confirmed that [Felix] was supposed to be on the property,’ according to Nanos’s own testimony…. Having satisfied himself that Felix was not trespassing, Nanos offered nothing amounting to a ‘particularized suspicion’ that would warrant the specific question asked. While it is apparently true that the house was a known ‘crack house,’ that alone cannot be the basis for the Terry stop of someone who is there with the permission of an owner or resident. He did not know Felix, so there was no testimony that he was a known drug dealer or user…. Nanos never expressed any concern about a weapon, nor was that the purport of his question.”