On March 8, 2023, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided the Ocean County case of State v. Kyle A. Smart. The principal issue concerned whether the circumstances giving rise to the probable cause vehicle search were “unforeseeable and spontaneous.”
Judge Fasciale wrote for a unanimous Court in relevant part: In this case, the Court considers whether the automobile exception to the warrant requirement, as articulated in State v. Witt, 223 N.J. 409, 447-48 (2015), permitted the warrantless search of defendant Kyle Smart’s vehicle after an investigative stop. In particular, the Court considers whether the police actions giving rise to probable cause to search the vehicle were prompted by circumstances that were “unforeseeable and spontaneous,” as required under Witt.
On August 4, 2021, Officer Louis Taranto commenced surveillance in front of a condominium complex located in an area where frequent narcotics transactions and other criminal activity occurred. Based on information received a month earlier from a confidential informant (CI), Taranto identified a 2017 GMC Terrain parked at the complex as a vehicle that had been involved in prior drug deals and that was used by a drug dealer known as “Killer.” Taranto conducted a database search and learned defendant had been listed with the moniker “Killer” and had multiple arrests and felony convictions involving controlled dangerous substances.
Taranto surveilled the GMC. After about thirty minutes, he observed a female (the driver), defendant, and a child enter the GMC. Taranto followed them to a residence where he saw activity consistent with a drug transaction. At some point, Officer Samantha Sutter followed the GMC to the residence. Sutter knew that multiple drug users lived there. Indeed, two months earlier, a concerned citizen had notified Sutter that drug activity may have occurred at the residence. Taranto and Sutter reasonably suspected that defendant had previously engaged in drug deals at the residence. The officers’ suspicions were bolstered by what Sutter then witnessed. Sutter observed defendant exit the GMC and walk towards the backyard of the residence. Sutter was briefly unable to see defendant. Defendant returned from the backyard, accompanied by an unidentified female; he then entered the GMC while the unidentified female returned to the residence.
This case was successfully argued before the Appellate Division and New Jersey Supreme Court by attorney Cliff Yannone. Cliff was a legal intern at the Ocean County Public Defender’s Office while I worked there from 2007 through 2009. He has done excellent work for as long as I have known him.