NJ Appeals Court Affirms Suppression of Contraband – Not Enough Evidence to Support Detaining Vehicle or K-9 Search

April 1, 2014

As reported by NJ.com, a New Jersey state appeals court has ruled that heroin found after a motor vehicle stop in June 2011 cannot be used as evidence against a North Plainfield man because police improperly detained the vehicle and used a drug-sniffing dog.

Appellate judges upheld a lower court’s ruling that there was an “insufficient legal basis” for a Warren Township Police Officer’s request to the Defendant for consent to search the vehicle or the use of the K-9 unit, according to the decision issued on Friday.

The “dog sniff” occurred nearly an hour or more after the initial stop, the decision states.  The Defendant’s employer owned the vehicle and later consented to a search, at which time police found six bricks of heroin in the glove compartment, the decision states.

“(The Officer’s) hunch was correct, but it was nothing more than a hunch and, consequently, insufficient to warrant a request to search or a dog sniff not concurrent with the stop,” the decision states.

The appellate decision rejected the state’s appeal of the July 2013 ruling to suppress the heroin as evidence. The Defendant, 38, has been charged with possession of heroin with the intent to distribute.

He was stopped on June 10, 2011 for driving with excessively tinted windows, the decision states. The Officer learned that Defendant’s driver’s license was suspended, and he was unable to produce a current insurance card for the vehicle, the decision states.

Ferreiro suspected criminal activity due to “’(the Defendant’s) extreme and unusual nervousness,’ the fact that his ‘stories were a little different,’ and the tobacco shavings” seen in the vehicle, the decision states. After the Defendant refused to consent to a search of the vehicle, Ferreiro called in the K-9 unit, the decision states.

But in the initial ruling, Superior Court Judge John Pursel found that “there were insufficient facts to support a reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity,” the decision states.

“The employer’s consent to search was prompted by the improper dog sniff and cannot cure the constitutional violations that led up to it,” the decision states.