Judge Fasciale continued: Considering the information from the CI and the concerned citizen, Taranto’s investigation, and the surveillance by Taranto and Sutter, Officers Taranto and Sutter determined they had reasonable and articulable suspicion to perform an investigative stop. Approximately one hour and seventeen minutes after Taranto first spotted the GMC, Taranto directed a third officer to pull over the GMC. Taranto and a fourth officer patted defendant down, finding no incriminating evidence, and the driver declined consent to search the GMC. Suspecting the GMC contained drugs, the officers called for a canine to perform an exterior sniff. Twenty-three minutes after initiating the stop, a fifth officer arrived with Duke, a canine, whose positive drug “hit” established probable cause. The officers immediately searched the GMC and found drugs, drug paraphernalia, weapons, and ammunition. Defendant admitted to owning the contraband. The police arrested defendant and charged him with various crimes.
In a comprehensive oral decision, the trial judge suppressed the evidence seized from the search of the GMC because the police failed to obtain a warrant. The Appellate Division affirmed. 473 N.J. Super. 87 (App. Div. 2022). The Court granted leave to appeal. 252 N.J. 35 (2022).
The circumstances giving rise to probable cause in this case were not “unforeseeable and spontaneous.” Those circumstances included investigating previous information from the CI and concerned citizen about defendant, the vehicle, and narcotics trafficking in the area; lengthy surveillance of defendant and the vehicle; reasonable and articulable suspicion that defendant had engaged in a drug deal; and a positive canine sniff of the vehicle. The Court therefore affirms the order suppressing the physical evidence seized from the vehicle.
During oral argument, Justice Patterson seemed to indicate that she would side with the prosecution. Her questions suggested that she saw the defense position as advocating a return to the law under State v. Pena-Flores, which had recently been overturned by State v. Witt. Justice Patterson ultimately joined in the unanimous decision and sided with the defense.