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NJ Police Search of Parked Car Deemed Illegal

27
Dec
2010

by in Criminal Appeals

State v. Calvin Johnson, Jr., unpublished opinion, App. Div. Docket No. A-1567-09T1 (October 26, 2010) – Suppression of evidence affirmed.

“By leave granted, the State appeals from an interlocutory order of the Law Division suppressing evidence seized as a result of a search of defendant Calvin Johnson’s parked vehicle. The State asserts that the investigating police officers had reasonable suspicion to justify an inquiry and investigation of defendant leading to a ‘plain view’ sighting of the weapon and cocaine recovered from defendant’s vehicle…. Here, the officers conducted an investigatory stop rather than a mere field inquiry because the officers did not first approach defendant to ask him non-harassing questions. Langan testified that his partner touched defendant’s arm and prevented defendant from leaving the pizzeria, specifically telling him to ‘stay right there.’ The officers’ conduct would only be appropriate if: first, the anonymous informant had an adequate basis of knowledge and was thereby reliable; and, second, the officers independently corroborated the tip…. In her opinion, the trial judge correctly concluded there was no reasonable suspicion because the informant’s tip lacked a basis of knowledge to support the presence of criminal activity…. [T]he New Brunswick informant gave nothing more than a generic description of two men standing outside a pizzeria without verifiable details. Nothing in the record demonstrates the caller’s hearsay basis for believing his son truly knew that what he observed was criminal activity…. Nothing about defendant’s conduct outside the pizzeria — whether he was smoking a cigarette or drinking a soda — or his subsequent behavior inside the store could be construed as being ‘urgent’ enough to justify reliance on the informant’s bare description…. Independent corroboration was required to provide a basis for police action. While the informant did describe defendant, he failed to provide more details on the man in ‘black jeans’ or the sale of narcotics from the ‘mouth.’ Consequently, Langan, based on his law enforcement background, assumed defendant maintained narcotics in his mouth because defendant was holding a can of soda ‘at his lips.’ This common behavior alone is insufficient to suggest even the possibility of unlawful conduct sufficient to warrant the investigative stop that ensued…. At oral argument, the State conceded that a finding adverse to the State as to the initial stop and inquiry was fatal to the inquiry and search of defendant’s vehicle that followed.”

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