Investigatory Detentions (Part 5)

by | Mar 27, 2019 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The unanimous Court concluded in relevant part: Applying those legal principles to the facts and circumstances of this case, the Court concludes that the detention of the motel room occupants, including Chisum and Woodard, was unconstitutional. Just because a location to which police officers are dispatched is a high-crime area does not mean that the residents in that area have lesser constitutional protection from random stops. The investigative detention in this instance, like all investigatory detentions, required that the officers reasonably and particularly suspected that the occupants in Room 221 engaged in, or were about to engage in, some form of criminal activity.

Because the officers exercised their own discretion and declined to issue a summons for a noise violation, they essentially concluded that the occupants of Room 221 were not engaging in any criminal activity.  Moreover, there is no evidence in the record that any occupants in Room 221 were about to engage in some form of criminal activity. Because the investigative detention here was based on less than reasonable suspicion, an unlawful seizure took place. The firearm discovered on Chisum in the search incident to arrest is therefore subject to the exclusionary rule. Consequently, the need to pat-down Woodard after finding the firearm on Chisum was also unnecessary, and the firearm found on Woodard is also subject to the exclusionary rule. The judgment of the Appellate Division is reversed and the matter is remanded to the trial court.

Allegations of “high-crime” areas are routinely made by the police during suppression motions and at trial. At trial, the claims should not be admitted unless the testifying officer has firsthand knowledge of crimes being committed in the given area. Otherwise, the testimony is inadmissible hearsay. At suppression hearings however, the evidence rules are relaxed and hearsay testimony can be admitted if there are indicia of reliability.

This might present a rare case where the prosecution could pursue a successful appeal to the United States Supreme Court. First, reasonable suspicion is a low standard to satisfy. Second, the Court did not couch its opinion in terms of Article One, Paragraph Seven of the New Jersey Constitution. If it had, the United States Supreme Court would have no basis to intervene. That is because the New Jersey Supreme Court is the final arbiter of state constitutional issues. As it stands, the Court’s opinion was based on the federal fourth amendment.