No. A-91-15 (077420)

June 6, 2017 (Date Decided)

Judge LaVecchia

FOR APPELLANT: Laura B. Lasto, Assistant Deputy Public Defender (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Al Glimis, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, on the brief).

FOR RESPONDENT: Monica do Outeiro, Assistant Prosecutor (Christopher J. Gramiccioni, Monmouth County Prosecutor, attorney; Paul H. Heinzel, Special Deputy Attorney General/Acting Assistant Prosecutor, of counsel; Mark W. Morris, Legal Assistant, on the brief).

Defendant appealed from the appellate division’s decision affirming the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion to suppress and her conviction following a guilty plea to third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance. The police received an anonymous tip that defendant was selling heroin out of her vehicle. Officer Campan spotted defendant in her vehicle. pulled up and parked his cruiser several feet behind defendant’s vehicle in a position that blocked in defendant, and pointed his alley light into defendant’s vehicle. Officer Campan observed a woman, later identified as defendant, lean into the passenger seat and “scuffle” around with an object there. Officer Campan approached the driver’s window and asked defendant for her “identification and driver’s license.” The officer recognized defendant as the subject of the anonymous tip and as an individual he had arrested six months’ prior for drug-related offenses. Officer Campan asked defendant what she was doing, and dissatisfied with her answers, asked if there was “anything he should know about” in her vehicle. Defendant answered in the affirmative, and produced an eyeglass case containing a white power that Officer Campan identified as drugs.

Prior to trial, defendant moved to suppress. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that the encounter did not escalate into an investigatory detention until Officer Campan asked defendant if she had anything he should have known about. The trial court further concluded that the officer had reasonable suspicion at that point due to her implausible responses to the officer’s prior questions and his knowledge of her criminal activity. Finally, the trial court rejected defendant’s Miranda argument, ruling that she volunteered her statements and the evidence, and was not in custody prior to her arrest.

On appeal from the appellate division, which affirmed the trial court, the court reversed. The court ruled that the interaction between Officer Campan and defendant became an investigative detention once he blocked her vehicle in with his cruiser and pointed his alley light into her vehicle, because a reasonable person in that position would not have felt free to terminate the encounter. The court further ruled that Officer Campan lacked reasonable suspicion to initiate an investigative detention at that point, noting that all of defendant’s suspicious actions occurred after Officer Campan pulled in behind her vehicle. Finally, the court held that because all evidence from the encounter had to be suppressed, it was unnecessary to address defendant’s Miranda argument.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Solomon argued that the encounter did not evolve into an investigative detention until Officer Campan asked defendant if she had any, and agreed with the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress.