Discovery of an outstanding parole warrant against a man after he was subject to an unlawful investigatory stop does not purge the taint of the wrongful detention, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Suppression of drug evidence found in the defendant’s possession after he was searched pursuant to his arrest on the warrant is the proper remedy for violation of his Fourth Amendment rights, the court said in State v. Shaw, A-38-11.
The defendant, Don Shaw, was leaving an Atlantic City apartment building just as a multiagency task force was approaching the building to execute an arrest warrant on a fugitive. The officers stopped Shaw to determine if he was the fugitive in the arrest warrant. Shaw refused to give his name, and was detained.
Detective Steve Brown of the New Jersey State Police, who detained Shaw, testified that he had been given a description of the fugitive the team was seeking. Asked at a suppression hearing if their target fugitive shared any traits with Shaw, Brown said they were both black men, but could not recall if they shared any other features.
The task force had a list of primary targets as well as a list of secondary targets, persons with outstanding warrants, who were to be arrested if they were encountered. Another officer, who recognized Shaw, gave his name to the team, and a third officer knew his name was on the list of secondary targets.
Shaw was placed under arrest, and 649 individually wrapped packets of heroin were found in his waistband. He was charged with various drug offenses, and moved to suppress the drug evidence.
Judge Michael Donio of Atlantic County Superior Court suppressed the drugs as the product of an unconstitutional search. He said Shaw was not behaving suspiciously when leaving the apartment building, and had a right not to answer the officers’ questions. However, on the state’s motion for reconsideration, Donio held that the parole warrant dissipated the taint from the illegal detention. The defendant then entered a guilty plea on two drug offenses and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The Appellate Division reversed and suppressed the drugs, applying the Exclusionary Rule and finding the parole warrant did not sufficiently attenuate the taint from the unconstitutional stop.
The Supreme Court noted that the fruits of an unconstitutional search or seizure are ordinarily excluded from evidence, but the court’s job is to determine whether the drugs in the present case were found through exploitation of the wrongful detention or by “means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint — the parole warrant,” Justice Barry Albin wrote.
The court unanimously affirmed the suppression of the drugs after evaluating “the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct,” as dictated by Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590 (1975), to determine if the unlawful arrest and the secured evidence were sufficiently attenuated.
The only features Shaw shared with the person sought by the task force were that both were black men, Albin wrote for the court. “Apparently, any other black man walking out of the apartment building at the moment Detective Brown and company arrived would have been detained if he would have refused to identify himself,” Albin wrote. The court also rejected Donio’s reasoning that the site of the arrest was a high-crime area. “That [the location] is located in a high-crime area does not mean that residents in that area have lesser constitutional protection from random stops,” he wrote.
Brown calls for consideration of the manner of the defendant’s detention, and this factor weighs heavily against the state and is determinative in the court’s determination, Albin said.
“The random detention of an individual for the purpose of running a warrant check — or determining whether the person is wanted on a particular warrant — cannot be squared with values that inhere in the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Paragraph 7 of our State Constitution. A random stop based on nothing more than a non-particularized racial description of the person sought is especially subject to abuse,” Albin wrote.
Deputy Public Defender Matthew Astore, who represented Shaw at the Supreme Court, says the court’s willingness to suppress the drug evidence reflects the court’s strong dislike of the manner of Shaw’s detention.
“All [the task force] knew was they were looking for a black man. You could see how much it bothered the court. You can’t just stop every single person you see because that person meets the racial criteria. That was just beyond anything that the court could find acceptable,” says Astore.
The state was represented at the Supreme Court by Deputy Attorney General Jeanne Screen. A spokesman for the Division of Criminal Justice, Peter Aseltine, says the department will not comment on the ruling.