Reasonable Suspicion and Investigatory Stops (Part 4)

by | May 3, 2022 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Pierre-Louis concluded with the following in relevant part: Applying those principles, the Court does not find that the information Sergeant Horan possessed at the time of the motor-vehicle stop constituted reasonable and articulable suspicion. Certainly, race and sex — when taken together with other, discrete factors — can support reasonable and articulable suspicion. But here, the initial description did not provide any additional physical descriptions that would differentiate the two Black male suspects from any other Black men in New Jersey. And the radio dispatch indicated that the store was robbed by two Black men.

Sergeant Horan testified that upon seeing three Black males in the vehicle, he inferred that the third was the getaway driver. While Sergeant Horan’s inference was reasonable, the reality is that the ambiguous nature of the description could have resulted in Black men in any configuration and using any mode of transportation being stopped because the only descriptors of the suspects were race and sex. Sergeant Horan saw the clothing and learned the car had been reported stolen after the stop, but information acquired after a stop cannot retroactively serve as the basis for the stop. Defendants’ non-reaction to the spotlight — like nervous behavior that courts have reasonably found not to support reasonable suspicion — did not justify the stop. And even considering the closeness of Sergeant Horan’s encounter with defendants in terms of spatial and temporal proximity to the robbery does not add significantly to the analysis of whether the stop was lawful because the 7-Eleven was located on a roadway close to a major interstate highway and the record is unclear as to when the robbery actually occurred. The non-specific and non-individualized factors asserted here do not add up to a totality of circumstances analysis upon which reasonable suspicion can be found. Zero plus zero will always equal zero.

The Court gives good insight into defeating a reasonable suspicion finding. Spatial and temporal proximity to the site of an offense loses relevance in the case of vague descriptions when there are many people in the area that fit the vague description.