Unforeseeable and Spontaneous Circumstances (Part 4)

by | Jun 25, 2023 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Unforeseeable and Spontaneous CircumstancesJudge Fasciale concluded with the following in relevant part: The Court notes that the circumstances giving rise to probable cause here included a sequence of interconnected events that began with the information Sutter received from a concerned citizen two months prior to the automobile stop. The Court reviews in detail the facts of this case and concludes that the police actions that led to the warrantless search of the GMC were not prompted by the “unforeseeability and spontaneity of the circumstances giving rise to probable cause.” Witt, 223 N.J. at 414 (quoting Alston, 88 N.J. at 233). Rather, the investigative stop was deliberate, orchestrated, and wholly connected with the reason for the subsequent seizure of the evidence. A warrant was therefore required before searching the GMC. The question of whether the circumstances giving rise to probable cause were unforeseeable and spontaneous is a fact-sensitive inquiry that should be analyzed case by case.

In response to arguments by the State and Attorney General, the Court notes that, although it is true that police officers who possess probable cause well in advance of an automobile search should get a warrant, the Alston/Witt test requires not just that probable cause not exist long in advance of the search, but that it “arise from unforeseeable and spontaneous circumstances.” Witt, 223 N.J. at 450 (emphasis added). And there is no justification to part ways with Alston/Witt.

During oral argument,  Justice Patterson made the point that the police did not “know” that the canine would “hit” on the vehicle and therefore, there was no probable cause until the “hit” occurred. Therefore, the police did not “sit on probable cause” and the canine hit could be considered “unforeseeable and spontaneous.” However, the majority ultimately reasoned that the events leading up to the canine “hit” were interconnected and, while not certain that the canine would “hit”, it was foreseeable that he would. Time will tell how our courts continue to define “foreseeable” in this context.