Reasonable Suspicion and Investigatory Stops (Part 3)

by | May 1, 2022 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The unanimous New Jersey Supreme Court continued in relevant part: The only information the officer possessed at the time of the stop was the race and sex of the suspects, with no further descriptors. That information, which effectively placed every single Black male in the area under the veil of suspicion, was insufficient to justify the stop of the vehicle and therefore does not withstand constitutional scrutiny. Searches and seizures conducted without warrants issued upon probable cause are presumptively unreasonable and are invalid unless they fall within one of the few well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement. The exception at issue in this case is an investigative stop, a procedure that involves a relatively brief detention by police during which a person’s movement is restricted. An investigative stop or detention does not offend the Federal or State Constitution, and no warrant is needed, if it 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.

Although reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than probable cause, neither inarticulate hunches nor an arresting officer’s subjective good faith suffices. Determining whether reasonable and articulable suspicion exists for an investigatory stop is a highly fact-intensive inquiry that demands evaluation of the totality of circumstances surrounding the police-citizen encounter. In many cases, the reasonable suspicion inquiry begins with the description police obtained regarding a person involved in criminal activity and whether that information was sufficient to initiate an investigatory detention.

In State v. Shaw, 213 N.J. 398 (2012), and State v. Caldwell, 158 N.J. 452 (1999), the Court determined that police lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct an evidentiary stop based on descriptions limited to the race and sex of the suspect. The Court reviews those cases in detail and notes that even inquiries or investigative techniques that do not qualify as searches and seizures must still comport with the Equal Protection Clause. And New Jersey jurisprudence is well-settled that seemingly furtive movements, without more, are insufficient to constitute reasonable and articulable suspicion. The totality of the circumstances of the encounter must be considered in a factsensitive analysis to determine whether officers objectively possessed reasonable and articulable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop.

With race being as sensitive an issue as ever in modern society, it may have influenced the Court’s objective analysis. The fact that the defendants all entered guilty pleas would usually be enough to encourage our appellate courts to affirm the police conduct and convictions.