State v. Shaw (A-33/34-16) (078247) Argued January 28, 2019 -- Decided May 13, 2019
In this case, the Court considers whether evidence found in a motel room and vehicle and defendant Nathan Shaw’s statement to police should have been suppressed.
Jasmine Hanson was staying at the Crystal Inn motel in Neptune City. She called the front desk to complain she had been bitten by bed bugs. The motel owner inspected Hanson’s room using his pass key. He saw a plastic bag containing what he suspected were narcotics and called the police. Officer Jason Rademacher had the motel owner lead him to Hanson’s room where, again using his pass key, the motel owner unlocked the door for the officer to enter. Inside, Rademacher saw what appeared to be drugs, as well as a measuring cup and scale. A criminal history check on Hanson revealed an outstanding traffic warrant and a recently issued traffic summons on a 2012 black Chevrolet Tahoe, and its plate number.
Rademacher transported the evidence to the station and returned in an unmarked vehicle to wait for Hanson’s arrival. Shortly thereafter, the black Tahoe pulled into a parking space. The front passenger was Keon Bolden, Hanson was in the driver’s seat, and in the back seat were Shakera Dickerson and Shaw. Rademacher arrested Hanson. The officer asked to search the Tahoe; Hanson refused consent. A drug-detection canine was brought to perform an exterior sniff of the vehicle. The officers conducted warrant checks on the remaining passengers. Only Dickerson’s came back positive. She was arrested and placed in a second patrol car. Shaw and Bolden were patted down and seated in separate patrol cars, uncuffed. Hanson again refused to consent to a search of the vehicle.
The handler led the canine to the Tahoe. Shaw told an officer that he had a bag of marijuana in the car, and the canine alerted to the presence of narcotics. Shaw was arrested. An officer told Hanson that Shaw admitted he had marijuana in the vehicle and, at that point, she consented to the vehicle search. She signed a consent-to-search form, but did not initial the line attesting that she gave her consent free of coercion.
The officers found drugs in the car and within a tote bag on the back seat of the car. All four passengers were charged with multiple counts of possession and possession with intent to distribute the drugs found in both the motel room and the tote bag.
All defendants moved to suppress the drug evidence seized from the motel room and the Tahoe. The motion court denied their suppression motion. Shaw pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree possession of CDS with intent to distribute.
The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of Shaw’s motion to suppress the contents of the tote bag, finding he lacked standing to challenge its search, but reversed the denial of his motion to suppress his statement made to police while in their custody. In response to an argument by a co-defendant, the panel also found that the warrantless search of the motel room was illegal.
The Court granted Shaw’s petition for certification, 228 N.J. 506 (2017), and the State’s cross-petition, 228 N.J. 518 (2017). Following oral argument on November 8, 2017, the Court ordered this case remanded to the Law Division for the court “to address the application of the inevitable discovery doctrine and the independent source doctrine to the admissibility of the evidence seized in the motor vehicle.”
On remand, the parties presented no further testimony. Relying on the record as it had been developed at the suppression hearing, the court determined the inevitable discovery and the independent source doctrines both applied and that the evidence was admissible.
HELD:Defendant’s confession and the drug evidence must be suppressed.
1. Under the third-party intervention doctrine, a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy is not violated by the actions or search of a private actor. See State v. Wright, 221 N.J. 456, 459 (2015). Fourth Amendment protections apply only to governmental action, and a subsequent search by law enforcement -- so long as it does not exceed the scope of the private search -- may not require a warrant if it does not infringe any constitutionally protected privacy interest that had not already been frustrated as a result of the private conduct. The doctrine traditionally applied to searches of objects either physically conveyed or reported to the police. See id. at 459, 468-69. In Wright, the Court held that the doctrine could not be applied to searches of private dwellings -- including rented apartments -- under our State Constitution. Id. at 476. Although Wright discussed apartments, its reasoning applies with equal force to motel rooms. Where a motel owner or employee finds contraband in a guest’s room, “the police can use that information to obtain a search warrant and then conduct a search.” Id. at 478-79. “In the time it takes to get the warrant, police officers can secure the [motel room] from the outside, for a reasonable period of time, if reasonably necessary to avoid any tampering with or destruction of evidence.” Id. at 478. Here, the motel search was unconstitutional and the illegal fruits of that search must be suppressed.
2. Police must have particularized suspicion in order to conduct an investigatory stop, and the duration of an investigative stop must be limited in time and scope to the purpose that justified the stop in the first place. If the officer’s conduct is more intrusive than necessary, the investigative stop turns into a de facto arrest. Once it was determined that Shaw was
unarmed and had no outstanding warrants, there was no particularized suspicion that Shaw was engaged in criminal activity that would justify Shaw’s further detention. Under the circumstances here, isolating Shaw in the back of a patrol car despite a negative warrant check was a de facto and an unlawful arrest.
3. It was during that period of unlawful detention that Shaw stated there was marijuana in the bag. To decide whether to suppress a statement obtained after an unlawful arrest, courts consider three factors: the temporal proximity of the arrest and the confession, the presence of intervening circumstances, and, particularly, the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct. Here, Shaw’s confession was a product of his unlawful de facto arrest and must be suppressed. Shaw’s confession occurred during his unlawful detention, and the Court is not persuaded that the presence of the drug-detection canine purged the taint of the illegal arrest. Shaw was never informed of his right to remain silent and was held without individualized suspicion. Although his confession was not made in response to an interrogation, the Court is not convinced it was a product of his own free will.
4. The Court next addresses Shaw’s standing to challenge the search of the tote bag. Whenever a defendant is charged with committing a possessory drug offense -- as in this case -- standing is automatic, unless the State can show that the property was abandoned or the accused was a trespasser. The tote bag was found in the back seat of a car that had four occupants. They were ordered out of the car. The State simply has not established that the bag was abandoned property. The trespasser exception has even less relevancy. The record is devoid of any evidence that Shaw put the drugs in the tote bag without Dickerson’s knowledge. Shaw had automatic standing to challenge the search of the bag.
5. The Court thus considers whether the search fell within the consent-search exception to the warrant requirement. An individual’s voluntary consent to search a constitutionally protected area eliminates the need for law enforcement to obtain a warrant. When Hanson consented to the search, she had already been arrested and handcuffed. The officers asked her multiple times for consent to search the vehicle. She relented only after an officer informed her of Shaw’s unlawfully obtained confession. The warrantless search of the Tahoe was unconstitutional and the evidence seized through that search is therefore subject to suppression. Nor can the evidence come in through Shaw’s confession.
6. The State failed to make the necessary showing under either inevitable discovery or the independent source exceptions to the exclusionary rule. Accordingly, the unconstitutionally obtained evidence remains suppressed.
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