Did the Police Have Reasonable Cause to Detain You?
To some, it might seem like a chicken or egg kind of story. As far as you are concerned, you weren’t doing anything to bring attention to yourself. There really was no reason for the officer to approach your vehicle. However, once she did, you found yourself headed to jail and facing charges. But, here’s the bottom line. Did the police actually have reasonable cause to detain you?
First, you should know that there is a name for investigative detention stops. The term “Terry stop” is actually the offshoot of a United States Supreme Court case. If you have concerns that you were stopped and frisked, you’ll want to know all there is to know about Terry stops.
What it boils down to is that citizens are owed certain protections under the United States Constitution. More particularly, the Fourth Amendment says that individuals have a right against unreasonable search and seizure. For the record, a seizure can mean something as simple as a person feeling that their movements are restricted by law enforcement.
Like other jurisdictions, there are search and seizure laws in New Jersey. For starters, the police cannot detain you or initiate a search unless they can demonstrate “reasonable and articulable suspicion” that you have been involved in some criminal activity. Notwithstanding, there is one further caveat. If law enforcement officials can document their concerns that you were about to be engaged in some type of criminal activity, this would also be a reason to detain you.
When you are facing criminal charges, an experienced criminal defense attorney will ask you questions regarding the circumstances of your arrest. If your case involved a warrantless search and seizure, this might be used as a legal defense. In fact, you may want to review the circumstances of a matter decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court just last year.
Investigative Detention: Search and Seizure
First, you should know that there is a difference between a field inquiry and investigative detention. All things considered, this was a major issue in State v. Rosario. When an officer conducts a field inquiry, the accused is under the impression that they can voluntarily walk away and not answer any of the questions posed to them. Additionally, it is not necessary to prove there was a suspicion of criminal activity.
Next, let’s look at the circumstances of this particular legal matter. The defendant was sitting in her car in a legitimate parking place. In fact, she was directly in front of her own home. The engine was off when the police officer essentially blocked the vehicle in. Subsequently, the officer shone a light into the car and addressed the defendant.
It seems fairly obvious that this was not a field inquiry. The defendant did not feel free to leave of her own volition. Meanwhile, as the story proceeds, police attempted to justify the reason for approaching the vehicle.
A few days prior, a tipster called in and stated that the defendant was selling drugs out of her home and her vehicle. The informant also gave a description of a car that matched the one approached by the police officer. The defendant’s name was also provided to local law enforcement.
When the matter was heard in court, the police officer admitted that he did not initially put two and two together. In fact, it wasn’t until the defendant produced identification that the officer realized that woman in the car had the same name one as that provided by the tipster. The matching address further confirmed the possibility that the defendant was engaged in criminal activity.
As the encounter progressed, the defendant ultimately acknowledged that the officer had arrested her before for drug-related activity. However, before she did so, she attempted to say that she was in the car putting on makeup in the dark.
Ultimately, the woman responded to the officer’s questions regarding possession of contraband by admitting she had some in her possession. The State continued to defend the stop as a field inquiry that escalated into an investigative detention.
However, the Court disagreed. The police officer did not equate the tipster’s information with the fact that the defendant was sitting in her car. She was not able to leave as the officer blocked her in the parking space. Therefore, the situation had not arisen to the level of investigative detention. Drugs were seized at the scene and used as evidence. However, since they were improperly seized, the evidence was suppressed. Obviously, this ended the case in the defendant’s favor.
At the Law Offices of Anthony Carbone, we have nearly thirty years of criminal defense experience. We work hard to help our clients. Call us to see what we can do for you if you are facing criminal charges.