Dog Sniffs and Reasonable Suspicion (Part 2)

by | Jun 17, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law

The New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: At first, Nelson told the detective he had been in the Bronx to visit his aunt and was now on his way to Philadelphia to visit his cousin, but later Nelson stated he had been visiting his cousin in New York and was heading to Philadelphia to visit a friend. Detective Kazan noticed that Nelson’s car was devoid of any personal belongings, aside from two very large bundles in the cargo hold of the car. Detective Kazan asked Nelson what the bags contained, and Nelson stated they contained shoes from a store he was closing. Nelson admitted that he had been previously arrested for possession of marijuana.

Based on his belief that Nelson’s car contained narcotics, Detective Kazan asked Nelson for permission to search the vehicle, but Nelson denied the request. Detective Kazan testified that he believed there was “reasonable articulable suspicion that there was crime afoot” and called for a canine unit to be brought to the scene at 7:21 p.m.

The canine arrived at 7:58 p.m. and conducted a sniff of Nelson’s vehicle.  The canine alerted the officers to the presence of narcotics in the rear hatch of the vehicle. Detective Kazan then placed Nelson under arrest and called for a tow truck. At 11:15 p.m., Detective Kazan secured a search warrant and conducted a search of Nelson’s vehicle, which led to the discovery of eighty pounds of marijuana.

Nelson moved to suppress the evidence found in his vehicle. The motion court recognized that “Detective Kazan extended the length of time of the initial motor vehicle stop and expanded the scope of the search beyond the limits of the motor vehicle stop,” but determined that Detective Kazan had reasonable and articulable suspicion to do so. The court denied Nelson’s motion, and Nelson pled guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

Here, the defendant was caught in a catch-22 with regard to the question that the trooper posed to him regarding his prior marijuana arrest. If he said “no”, his false denial would help to establish reasonable suspicion. On the other hand, he said “yes” and his prior involvement with marijuana helped to establish reasonable suspicion. The ideal response would have been to politely refuse to answer any questions.