Reasonable Suspicion and Investigatory Stops (Part 2)

by | Apr 29, 2022 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Pierre-Louis, my law school classmate, continued in relevant part: Upon stopping the vehicle, Sergeant Horan radioed headquarters with the license plate number and a description of the car, and two more officers arrived. Before he approached the vehicle, Horan learned from one of the other officers that the robbery suspects had been wearing dark or black clothing or jackets. As he approached, Horan observed “some dark jackets” on the unoccupied rear passenger seat and on the floor of the vehicle. Horan spoke with the driver, who was later identified as Miller. Nyema was sitting in the passenger seat and Myers was in the rear passenger-side seat. The dispatcher advised Horan that the vehicle had been reported stolen. All three occupants were placed under arrest. More officers arrived on the scene, and while several officers secured the arrestees, others assisted Horan in searching for a weapon.

First, Horan retrieved the clothing he had observed from the backseat of the vehicle. Then, he and the other officers searched other parts of the vehicle, locating additional clothing in the trunk and a black semi-automatic handgun under the hood. Searches of the men themselves yielded just under $600 cash. Approximately $600 was reported stolen from the 7-Eleven. The vehicle was then impounded, and police transported the three men to the police station.

Miller pled guilty to two weapons offenses and agreed to testify against Nyema and Myers, who jointly moved to suppress the physical evidence seized from the stop. The trial court granted the motion in part as to the items seized from the trunk and the hood. But the court found that the initial stop was supported by reasonable and articulable suspicion, that the retrieval of clothing from the interior of the vehicle was permitted under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement, and that the money was lawfully seized incident to defendants’ arrest. As to the robbery of the 7-11, both Myers and Nyema pled guilty to first-degree robbery. Both defendants appealed from the partial denial of their motion to suppress. In Myers’s case, the Appellate Division affirmed. In Nyema’s case, the Appellate Division held that the stop was not based on reasonable and articulable suspicion. 465 N.J. Super. 181, 185 (App. Div. 2020). Accordingly, Nyema’s conviction was reversed, his sentence vacated, and the matter remanded for further proceedings. Ibid. The Court granted certification in Nyema. 245 N.J. 256 (2021). On reconsideration, it granted certification in Myers “limited to the issue of whether the police officer had reasonable articulable suspicion to stop the car.” 245 N.J. 250, 251 (2021).

A physical evidence suppression issue is automatically appealable in New Jersey state court. There are no automatically appealable issues in federal court. Defendants in federal court must specifically reserve the right to appeal an issue as part of a plea agreement. Or, they have to go to trial (and lose) to preserve their appeal rights. If they win at trial, there is no conviction to appeal.