Reasonable articulable suspicion was not present when this investigative detention began. Therefore, the statements and evidence obtained thereafter must be suppressed,
State v. Lurdes Rosario (A-91-15) (077420) Argued February 28, 2017 -- Decided June 6, 2017
LaVecchia, J., writing for the Court.
In this appeal, the Court addresses whether and at what point defendant’s interaction with the police officer escalated from a field inquiry into an investigative detention. The Court then assesses whether reasonable articulable suspicion supported the detention’s restriction on defendant’s freedom of movement.
The Colts Neck Police Department received an anonymous tip, on April 27, 2013, that defendant Lurdes Rosario was selling heroin from her home, located in a residential development known as “the Grande,” as well as out of her “older burg[undy] Chevy Lumina.” On May 1, 2013, at about 11:30 p.m., Officer Campan was patrolling in the Grande, and his attention was drawn to a moving silhouette in a parked burgundy Chevy Lumina.
Campan testified that he pulled up and parked his patrol car seven to ten feet behind defendant’s vehicle and at a perpendicular angle. The cruiser’s positioning blocked in defendant’s car. Campan turned on the patrol car’s rooftop, right alley light aimed at the parked vehicle, but not the siren or emergency lights. The alley light revealed a woman sitting in the driver’s seat of the Lumina. Campan testified that the woman, later identified as defendant, looked back at him and then leaned toward the passenger’s seat and was “scuffling around” with something there. He exited his car and approached her vehicle, going directly to the driver’s-side door. Finding the driver’s window half-open, he addressed defendant by asking for “identification and driver’s license.” After she produced them, he recognized her as the subject of the anonymous tip. Campan testified that he also recalled, at that moment, that he had arrested defendant on drug-related charges approximately six months earlier.
Campan asked defendant what she was doing, and she replied that she was smoking a cigarette. Campan testified that he did not observe a cigarette or cigarette butt. Campan asked her why she began to scuffle around the passenger-seat area when he pulled his car up behind hers. Defendant replied that she had been applying makeup and was putting it away in her purse. When Campan asked how she could apply makeup in the dark, she did not reply. Campan then asked defendant whether there was “anything he should know about” in the vehicle. According to Campan, defendant responded by stating something along the lines of “yes . . . it’s the same thing you arrested me for before in the past.” Then, according to Campan, defendant, unprompted, reached over to the passenger seat and produced an eyeglass case. Defendant opened the eyeglass case and Capman observed a white powdery substance that he identified as drugs. Campan ordered defendant out of the vehicle and placed her under arrest.
Defendant was charged with third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance. The motion court denied defendant’s motion to suppress, concluding that the encounter did not escalate into an investigatory stop until Campan asked defendant whether she had anything in the car he should know about. By that point, the court found, the brief detention was supported by the officer’s reasonable and articulable suspicion due to defendant’s implausible responses to the officer’s questions and his prior knowledge of her criminal activity. The court also rejected defendant’s Miranda argument, determining that defendant voluntarily relinquished the drugs, volunteered statements to the officer, and was not in custody prior to her arrest. Defendant pled guilty. The Appellate Division affirmed, and the Court granted defendant’s petition for certification, 227 N.J. 22 (2016).
HELD: Defendant was faced with an investigative detention once the officer blocked in her vehicle, directed the patrol car’s alley light to shine into her car, and then approached her driver’s-side window to address her. Under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person would feel the constraints on her freedom of movement from having become the focus of law enforcement attention. Accordingly, an investigative detention had begun. Reasonable articulable suspicion did not ripen prior to the officer’s subsequent exchanges with defendant.
1. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S. Const. amend. IV; N.J. Const. art. I, ¶ 7. Warrantless searches and seizures presumptively violate those protections, but not all police-citizen encounters constitute searches or seizures for purposes of the warrant requirement.
2. Three categories of encounters with police have been identified by the courts: (1) field inquiry; (2) investigative detention; and (3) arrest. The test of a field inquiry is whether a defendant, under all of the attendant circumstances, reasonably believed he could walk away without answering any of the officer’s questions. In contrast to a field inquiry, an investigative detention, also called a Terry stop or an investigatory stop, occurs during a police encounter when an objectively reasonable person would feel that his or her right to move has been restricted. Because an investigative detention is a temporary seizure that restricts a person’s movement, it must be based on an officer’s reasonable and particularized suspicion that an individual has just engaged in, or was about to engage in, criminal activity. An arrest requires probable cause and generally is supported through an arrest warrant or by demonstration of grounds that would have justified one.
3. The key issue in this case lies in the distinction between a field inquiry and an investigative detention. The difference between a field inquiry and an investigative detention always comes down to whether an objectively reasonable person would have felt free to leave or terminate the encounter with police. The encounter is measured from a defendant’s perspective.
4. A person sitting in a lawfully parked car outside her home who suddenly finds herself blocked in by a patrol car that shines a flood light into the vehicle, only to have the officer exit his marked car and approach the driver’s side of the vehicle, would not reasonably feel free to leave. Here, the officer immediately asked for defendant’s identification. Although not determinative, that fact only reinforces that this was an investigative detention. It defies typical human experience to believe that one who is ordered to produce identification in such circumstances would feel free to leave. That conduct is not a garden-variety, non-intrusive, conversational interaction between an officer and an individual.
5. Because it was an investigative detention from the point that Campan took those directed actions toward defendant, the Court must consider whether, based on a totality of the circumstances, the encounter was “justified at its inception” by a reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity. An anonymous tip, standing alone, inherently lacks the reliability necessary to support reasonable suspicion. Mere furtive gestures of an occupant of an automobile do not give rise to an articulable suspicion suggesting criminal activity. The suspicious behavior identified by the State in defendant’s later responses to Campan’s questioning occurred after the investigative detention had begun. Neither those responses, nor her blurted-out incriminatory statements, nor the surrendered contraband can be used, post hoc, to establish the reasonable and articulable suspicion required at the outset of the investigative detention that here began earlier in time.
6. Reasonable articulable suspicion was not present when this investigative detention began. Therefore, the statements and evidence obtained thereafter must be suppressed, and it is unnecessary to address the Miranda arguments advanced by the parties.
The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED.
JUSTICE SOLOMON, DISSENTING, agrees with the majority that the encounter did not implicate Miranda, but views New Jersey jurisprudence to mandate a different holding as to when the encounter became an investigative detention and concludes that the interaction evolved from a field inquiry into an investigative detention when Campan asked whether there was anything in the vehicle he should know about. In Justice Solomon’s view, the detention was lawful and the trial court properly denied defendant’s motion to suppress. The majority’s holding unreasonably and unnecessarily limits an officer’s ability to explore a suspicious scenario and ensure that the community and officers are safe, and no crime is being committed, according to Justice Solomon.
CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES ALBIN and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE LaVECCHIA’s opinion. JUSTICE SOLOMON filed a separate, dissenting opinion, in which JUSTICES PATTERSON and FERNANDEZ-VINA join.