Racketeering Conspiracy Charges Based On Warrantless Search
- July 14, 2015
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Xiomara Gonzales was charged with second-degree racketeering conspiracy (N.J.S.A 2C:5-2 and 2C:41-2(d)); third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1)); first-degree possession of CDS with intent to distribute (N.J.S.A. 2:35-5(b)(1)); and first-degree distribution of CDS (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(b)(1)) after police conducted a planned stop of her vehicle with knowledge that there would likely be drugs therein. Gonzales sought to have heroin seized from her vehicle suppressed and the trial court judge denied her motion to suppress based upon the automobile exception and plain view exception to the search warrant requirement. Following the denial of her suppression motion, Gonzales pled to third-degree conspiracy to possess a controlled dangerous substance (N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and 2C:35-10(a)(1)). On appeal in State v. Gonzales, the NJ Appellate reversed and remanded the matter concluding that her Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. The record revealed that the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, Newark Police Department Narcotics Unit and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) were conducting investigations into various individuals. Through the use of a wiretap, the agencies received information indicating a suspect would be traveling to Newark to pick up heroin. The intent was to utilize a “wall off” traffic stop whereby the underlying wiretapping remains undisclosed by making the stop appear to be a routine traffic stop. Essex County law enforcement officers began following the suspect and Gonzales as they entered the Newark area in separate vehicles. Officers observed the suspect enter 2 separate locations and, at one point, place large bags obtained at the second location into the rear seat of Gonzales vehicle. Gonzales was then called by the suspect, whose phone was being tapped, and instructed to return to their point of origin without the suspect, as well as how to proceed through the Garden State Parkway toll booth without paying. After the pair separated, the police took their opportunity to “wall off” Gonzales from the suspect and avoid the risk that the suspect would realize his phone was tapped. Essex County officers were specifically told which vehicle to stop based on the information received by investigators from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office by virtue of the wiretap. Upon stopping Gonzales vehicle, officers observed bricks of heroin which had fallen out of the bags onto the rear floor area of defendant’s vehicle and were then in plain view. The trial judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Criminal Part, Monmouth County held that the three prongs of the plain view exception articulated in State v. Johnson, 171 N.J. 192 (2002) were satisfied and upheld the search. The NJ Appellate Division reviewed State v. Hinton, 216 N.J. 211 (2013), Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 100 S. Ct. 1371, 63 L. Ed.2d 639 (1980), State v. Davila, 203 N.J. 97 (2010) and State v. Hill, 115 N.J. 169 (1989) in holding that a search is presumptively invalid without a warrant issued by a neutral judge after a full recitation of the facts upon which said warrant is being sought or the search falls squarely within one of the well-defined exceptions to the warrant requirement. The Appellate Division held that the plain view exception is applicable, under Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 91 S. Ct. 2022, 29 L. Ed.2d 564 (1971), only in the event the evidence comes into plain view inadvertently and that items discovered in plain view following pretextual stops are subject to suppression under State v. Damplias, 282 N.J. Super 471 (App. Div. 1995) and therefore the exception was not satisfied. The Appellate Division further considered State v. Pena-Flores, 198 N.J. 6, 2022 (2009), wherein it was set forth that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement is satisfied in the event that: “(1) the police have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband; (2) the circumstances demonstrate an exigency making it impracticable for the police to obtain a warrant; and (3) the traffic stop is ‘unforeseen and spontaneous.” The NJ Appellate Division held that during the time the police were following Gonzales through the Newark area prior to stopping her vehicle they had ample time to obtain a warrant to search her vehicle and their failure to do so did not entitle them to the benefit of the automobile exception to the warrant requirement and reversed and remanded the matter to the NJ Superior Court. Racketeering and gang activity are serious criminal charges with severe penalties including lengthy prison sentences and prohibitive fines. If you are facing these charges you should obtain experienced criminal defense counsel immediately to protect your rights and freedom. For more information about racketeering conspiracy, gang activity, possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of CDS with intent to distribute or distribution of CDS visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.