The Validity of Police “Stop and Frisk” Procedures in NJ
- May 8, 2012
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The New Jersey Courts are to enforce the Constitutional right of the public to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects.” State v. Tucker, 136 N.J. 158, 165 (1994). A warrantless search must fall within certain carefully detailed exceptions to the warrant requirement. The same is true when a person is seized, which is measured by circumstances under which a reasonable person would not feel free to leave. A police officer may detain a person for a short period if the stop is “based on ‘specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts,’ give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 (1968) During such a stop, it is permissible for the officer(s) to conduct a limited pat-down search to determine whether the individual is armed in order to ensure officer safety. The evaluation of the validity of such a stop, and any accompanying search, is determined on a case by case basis, therefore subject to interpretation by the judge or jury when presented. A minimum showing that there was some reason to suspect that criminal activity was afoot is required to meet this burden. Recently, the NJ court had reason to decide, in State in the Interest of D.B., whether, when stopping one individual for questioning based on a valid suspicion, the officers could also detain a second individual, D.B. in the company of the suspect being questioned. The court held that the officers had the right to detain the second individual while they made an inquiry into the activities of the first individual but did not have the right to search the second individual unless he or she was also reasonably suspected of proximal participation in criminal activity. In the case of D.B., the police found marijuana on the person of D.B. during the stop yet it was soon revealed that neither individual was involved in the crime which recently occurred and for which D.B.’s companion was suspected. Although the trial court denied the suppression motion, the appellate division reversed and held the evidence should be suppressed because the officers had no reason to pat down D.B. The interpretation of the legality of a search is critical to a defendant. The manner in which the totality of the circumstances is presented by the prosecution and the defense is how the judge or jury will form their opinion and make their decision as to the validity of the search or seizure. When facing criminal charges it is critical that you have an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side. For more information on search and seizure, Terry stops or criminal law in NJ, visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com.