In this NJ criminal defense appeal victory, the defense attorney successfully argued that flight from an unconstitutional stop does not automatically justify the admission of evidence obtained during a subsequent search at trial. Summary by Mark Friedman.
State v. Robert E. Williams, ? N.J. Super. ?, 2009 N.J. Super. LEXIS ? (November 23, 2009) – Conviction reversed, suppression ordered. “The primary issue presented by this appeal is whether flight from an unconstitutional investigatory stop that could justify an arrest for obstruction automatically justifies the admission of any evidence revealed during the course of that flight.
We conclude that such evidence is admissible only if there is a significant attenuation between the unconstitutional stop and the seizure of evidence and that commission of the offense of obstruction is insufficient by itself to establish significant attenuation….[T]he trial court correctly concluded that Officer Delaprida and his partner did not have a reasonable suspicion that defendant was engaged or about to engage in criminal activity. These police officers had been dispatched to the housing complex based on a report of a possible retaliatory shooting in the area…. [T]he officers admittedly did not have any prior contact with defendant and thus had no reason to believe he might be involved in the possible retaliatory shooting or other criminal activity….
Moreover, defendant’s conduct after he saw the officers enter the courtyard did not provide an objectively reasonable basis for suspecting that he had engaged in or was about to engage in criminal activity. Defendant simply started quickly pedaling away from the officers and put his hand in his pocket.
We question whether this conduct should even be considered flight because the officers did not initially indicate to defendant that he should stop. Defendant could have believed that he should simply get out of the officers’ way….
Defendant argues that his failure to immediately stop his bicycle in response to Officer Delaprida’s command could not be found to constitute obstruction within the intent of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a) as interpreted in Crawley [187 N.J. 440 (2006)]. We have no need to address this argument because we conclude that even if defendant’s failure to obey Officer Delaprida’s command to stop would have provided an adequate basis to arrest him for obstruction, the evidence obtained when Officer Delaprida and his partner grabbed defendant was not ‘sufficiently attenuated’ from the taint of the unconstitutional stop to justify its admission into evidence….
In New Jersey, the three-factor test reaffirmed in Williams [192 N.J. 1 (2007)] delineates the circumstances in which the attenuation exception may be properly applied. Under those factors, the State failed to establish a ‘significant attenuation’ between the unconstitutional stop of defendant and the seizure of the drugs he discarded following that stop.” (Alyssa Aiello, A.D.P.D.)