Unconstitutional Traffic Stop Leads To Suppression Of Weapons Evidence
- July 27, 2016
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Al-Sharif Scriven was charged with second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b)); third-degree receiving stolen property (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7); fourth-degree possession of hollow-point bullets (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(f)); and fourth-degree possession of a large-capacity magazine (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(j)). The Honorable Martin G. Cronin, for the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County granted Al-Sharif Scriven’s motion to suppress evidence seized during the warrantless search following the stop of a vehicle in which Scriven was a passenger. The vehicle was stopped by an Essex County Sheriff’s Officer for violating N.J.S.A. 39:3-60, driving with high beams on. The State of New Jersey appealed the court’s grant of the suppression motion. The facts adduced at trial were that Scriven was a passenger in a car which was traveling through Newark, NJ in an entirely lawful manner, with the exception of the fact that the vehicle was traveling with its high beams on. An Essex County Sheriff’s Officer observed the vehicle and flagged it down when it came to a stop at an intersection he was near. When the officer approached the driver to advise her that her high beams were on he requested her credentials. While speaking to the driver, the officer detected an odor of burnt marijuana emanating from inside the vehicle which the officer indicated was stronger on the passenger side of the vehicle. The officer asked Scriven to exit the vehicle and Scriven first notified the officer that there was a handgun under his coat. The officer retrieved the gun from Scriven’s person and arrested him. Judge Cronin relied on State v. Witt, 435 N.J. Super. 608 (App. Div. 2014), 219 N.J. 624 (2014), which was directly on point and held that the initial stop of a vehicle is inappropriate when there is no actual violation. In Scriven, there was no oncoming vehicle within 500 feet traveling in the opposite direction as is required in order for a violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-60 to occur. On appeal, in State v. Scriven, the court looked to State v. Puzio, 379 N.J. Super. 378 (App. Div. 2005), which held that when an officer makes a mistake in the belief that a violation exists the mistake does not thereby create a reasonable basis for a stop. The State also argued, under the community caretaking doctrine, the officer was acting appropriately in stopping the vehicle briefly to notify the driver that her high beams were in use. In certain cases, including State v. Martinez, 260 N.J. Super. 75 (App. Div. 1992), wherein a vehicle was traveling less than one-half the posted speed limit at 2:00 a.m., an officer would be justified in stopping the vehicle to insure there was nothing amiss. The N.J. Appellate Division upheld Judge Cronin’s decision and the State again appealed. On Wednesday, July 20, 2016, the N.J. Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court below suppressing the weapon found on Al-Sharif Scriven as the fruits of an unreasonable search. Second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm or handgun carries up to 10 years in prison with a mandatory parole ineligibility period under the Graves Act (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(c)). If you are facing weapons charges you should seek experienced criminal defense counsel immediately. For more information about weapons possession, use or possession of a gun in the commission of a crime, possession of a handgun without a permit, weapons possession while on probation or parole, illegal weapons or other weapons related charges in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.