Drug Distribution Conviction Reversed For Lack Of Probable Cause
- November 5, 2014
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Jermaine Wright was charged with possession of controlled dangerous substance (CDS) (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a) and possession of CDS with intent to distribute (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5). Wright’s arrest was made by police in Trenton after Ewing Township detectives received a tip from a confidential informant that “Jazzz” was delivering CDS in Trenton in a specific vehicle. Initially the Ewing detectives followed up on the tip, verifying the vehicle and general location provided by the informant, but seeing no activity indicative of drug trade, then Ewing was dispatched to another call and passed the information on to Trenton detectives. Trenton detectives located the vehicle and approached on foot. Later testimony would conflict as to whether the officers guns were drawn as they approached the vehicle. The officer used flashlights to illuminate the occupied vehicle’s interior and saw the occupants using a scale to measure a quantity of CDS, which they suspected to be cocaine. As the driver exited the vehicle, a large amount of money could be viewed plainly in the purse she left behind and a bag on the passenger seat was partially open leaving a significant quantity of cocaine in plain view. In State v. Wright, Defendant attempted to suppress the evidence claiming the officers’ actions constituted de facto arrest without probable cause but the judge held that the stop was investigative in nature, of limited duration and of little intrusion upon the Defendant’s liberty. The judge further held that the evidence initially seized was in plain view and the remainder was seized based on probable cause and under exigent circumstances. In spite of the motion judge’s determination that Trenton officers parked their vehicle in a manner to prevent the defendants’ exit and swift approach with guns drawn conveying the message they were not free to leave, the judge held the stop was not thereby converted to an arrest requiring probable cause. The Defendant’s motion to suppress the CDS was denied and he entered a guilty plea to narcotics related offenses. The NJ Appellate Division referred to State v. Dickey, 152 N.J. 468, 475 (1998) in holding “the temporary detention of individuals during an automobile stop by police, even if only for a brief period and for a limited purpose constitutes a seizure. The Appellate Division also referenced State v. Gibson, ___ N.J. ___, (2014) in finding the judge below inaccurately utilized the reasonable and articulable suspicion standard for a stop rather than the probable cause standard required for an arrest. After a thorough analysis of warrantless seizure cases (State v. Pena-Flores, 198 N.J. 6 (2009), State v. Cooke, 163 N.J. 657 (2000) and State v. Mann, 203 N.J. 328 (2010)) and cases involving levels of police interaction (State v. Nishina, 175 N.J. 502 (2003), Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), State v. Stoval, 170 N.J. 346 (2002), State v. Bernokeits, 423 N.J. Super. 365 (App. Div. 2011)) the appellate judges looked to further considerations including the duration of the stop, reasonableness, degree of the intrusion and the State’s interest in the welfare of the public. The Appellate Division further reasoned that a reasonable articulable suspicion was required in this case but there were no particularized facts justifying the seizure. In fact, Trenton detectives testified they observed nothing giving rise to suspicion and approached the vehicle solely on the limited information provided by the Ewing Township detectives. The appellate division reasoned that the seizure of Wright was illegal as it was not supported by reasonable and articulable suspicion. Therefore, pursuant to State v. Smith, 155 N.J. 83 (1998), the appellate division reasoned the evidence obtained from the unlawful seizure must be suppressed and reversed the decision of the court below. Drug distribution charges are met with harsh penalties due to the public interest in deterrence. If you are facing charges for drug distribution or possession, there are multiple factors which may affect the ultimate outcome and an experienced criminal defense attorney will know how to protect your rights. For more information regarding drug distribution, possession, possession with intent to distribute or controlled dangerous substances (CDS) visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.