No. A-94-15 (077839)

July 10, 2017 (Date Decided)

Judge Donovan

FOR APPELLANT: Frank Muroski, Deputy Attorney General (Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General, attorney; Frank Muroski of counsel and on the brief).

FOR RESPONDENT: Stefan Van Jura, Deputy Public Defender (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Stefan Van Jura, of counsel and on the brief).

The state appealed from the appellate division’s order affirming the trial court’s suppression of evidence seized from defendant’s vehicle. Police officers initiated a traffic stop of defendant’s vehicle after noticing that it was parked in a handicapped-reserved space at a convenience store without displaying a handicapped placard or a designation on the license plate. Officers recognized defendant and his vehicle from an anonymous tip that reported defendant was distributing narcotics from his vehicle parked in the convenience store.

Officers initiated the arrest of one of defendant’s female passengers for an outstanding warrant; while waiting for a female officer to effect the arrest, the officers advised defendant of the allegations of the anonymous tip, and informed him that they would conduct a canine sniff of his vehicle with their narcotics canine. After the canine positively indicated for narcotics, officers gave the defendant the choice of consenting to a search or having his vehicle impounded pending a search warrant. Defendant allowed the search once a tow-truck arrived, and officers discovered multiple types of narcotics and arrested defendant.

Before trial, defendant moved to suppress the drugs. The trial court granted the motion, ruling that officers did not have reasonable suspicion that defendant was engaged in drug transactions to perform a canine sniff. The trial court further ruled that, given the number of officer and the threat of impounding his vehicle, defendant’s consent to the search was not voluntary. The state appealed, and the appellate division affirmed the trial court’s ruling and reasoning, noting that New Jersey jurisprudence required reasonable suspicion for canine sniffs.

On appeal, the court reversed. The court decided to adopt federal jurisprudence regarding canine sniffs, which held that a canine sniff did not require reasonable suspicion because it was not a “search” under the Fourth Amendment because it was limited to revealing only contraband items. The court further noted that the federal rule permitted canine sniffs without reasonable suspicion so long as the sniff did not prolong the legitimate purposes of the traffic stop; a canine sniff that unreasonably prolonged a traffic stop would require independent, reasonable suspicion. Accordingly, the court remanded for the trial court to make a determination as to whether the officers’ canine sniff unreasonably prolonged the time necessary to resolve defendant’s parking violation, and if so whether the officers had independent reasonable suspicion to conduct the canine sniff nonetheless.