Denial Of Motion To Suppress Marijuana And Handgun Upheld
- September 26, 2015
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Kenneth L. Hawes was indicted for third-degree possession of marijuana with intent to distribute (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and 2C:35-5(b)(11)); second-degree possession of marijuana with intent to distribute within 500 feet of public property (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7.1); second-degree possession of a firearm while in the course of committing a crime (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5 and 2C:39-4.1(a)); second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b)); and second-degree certain persons not to have weapons (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b)). An anonymous caller informed Franklin Township police that a black male was selling what may be narcotics from an SUV in a parking lot. Upon investigating, officers in plain clothes saw the man, who had been brought to their attention previously, selling hats, CDS, DVDs and other merchandise from a GMC Envoy and, upon approaching, smelled a strong odor of raw marijuana emanating from Hawes and the SUV. Hawes moved away from the officers but was seized by the arm and subjected to a pat-down search by the officers for their personal safety in which a small pouch with marijuana was discovered on Hawes person and he was placed under arrest. Hawes then asked if he could return the merchandise to his vehicle before being removed and upon returning the merchandise to the vehicle for him, the officers discovered a handgun in partial plain view. Officer Hernandez removed the gun then proceeded to search the vehicle for other weapons, discovering an additional 70 bags of marijuana in the vehicle. At the suppression hearing, in State v. Hawes, the defendant testified that he never asked the officers to return anything to the vehicle and that the weapon was not in plain view. The motion judge found the defendant and his 4 witnesses to lack credibility and denied the motion to suppress. Following the denial of his suppression motion, Hawes entered a retraxit plea of guilty to both indictments in exchange for the State’s recommendation of a maximum 10 year sentence with a 5 year period of parole ineligibility. The Somerset County Superior Court Judge sentenced Hawes according to the plea agreement but did not separately impose sentences on the charges. Hawes challenged the validity of the scope of the pat-down search, pursuant to Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968), in which under claim of a protective search officers opened the coin pouch discovered in his pocket. Hawes further challenged the ensuing search of his vehicle, including discovery of the handgun and bags of marijuana, as fruit of the poisonous tree under Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 487-88, 83 S. Ct. 407, 417-18, 9 L. Ed. 2d 441, 454-56 (1963). The NJ Appellate Division followed State v. O’Neal, 190 N.J. 601 (2007); State v. Maryland, 167 N.J. 471 (2001); State v. Citarella, 154 N.J. 272 (1998); and State v. Pineiro, 181 N.J. 13 (2004) in properly placing the burden of proof on the State to prove the warrantless search and seizure was soundly within one of the well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement. The Appellate Court held that, based on the circumstances at the time of the search under State v. Pena-Flores, 198 N.J. 6 (2009), police had probable cause to arrest Hawes and, therefore, the search and seizure were valid under Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969); State v. Dangerfield, 171 N.J. 446 (2002); State v. McKenna, 228 N.J. Super. 468 (App. Div. 1988); and State v. Burnett, 42 N.J. 377 (1964). Further, the Appellate Division held that defendant’s request to return the merchandise to his vehicle gave police opportunity to view the handgun, in plain view, in the defendant’s vehicle which, once discovered, made it valid for the police to search the remainder of the vehicle for further weapons without first obtaining a warrant pursuant to U.S. v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 102 S. Ct. 2157, 72 L. Ed. 2d 572 (1968). Although the denial of the suppression motion was upheld on appeal, the matter was remanded for re-sentencing due to the court’s failure to impose individual sentences for each offense as required under State v. Rodriguez, 97 N.J. 263 (1984). The difference between having a search upheld or suppressing evidence obtained from a search rests on small legal distinctions. If the police obtained evidence against you in what you believed to be an illegal search, it is critical that you obtain experienced criminal defense counsel to defend you against the prosecution. For more information about warrantless search, search and seizure, drugs, weapons or other criminal issues in New Jersey visit DarlingFirm.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of counsel.