In this case, police officers responded to a noise complaint at a motel room and determined not to issue a summons when the renter of the room immediately complied with their request to turn down the music. The police nevertheless conducted an investigatory detention on a group of ten people and ran warrant checks on them. More than twenty minutes into the detention, police arrested Deyvon Chisum for an outstanding warrant and discovered a concealed firearm on him.
The trial court denied defendants’ motions to suppress the evidence. Chisum pled guilty to one weapons charge; Woodard pled guilty to one weapons offense and to a drug possession offense arising from an unrelated indictment. The Appellate Division panel affirmed. The Court granted defendants’ petitions for certification “limited to the issues of whether the police were authorized to detain the defendants and to conduct pat-down searches for weapons.” 232 N.J. 88 (2018).
HELD: Once the renter of the motel room lowered the volume of the music and the police declined to issue summonses, the police no longer had any reasonable suspicion that would justify the continued detention of the room’s occupants. Once the noise was abated, the police no longer had an independent basis to detain the occupants, or a basis to run warrant checks on them. Such action was unlawful. And because the detention and warrant checks were unlawful, the subsequent pat-down of Woodard was also improper. The judgment of the Appellate Division is therefore reversed, and the matter is remanded to the trial court for the withdrawal of defendants’ guilty pleas and further proceedings.
1. Warrantless searches and seizures are presumptively invalid as contrary to the United States and the New Jersey Constitutions, and the State bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that a warrantless search or seizure falls within one of the few well-delineated exceptions to the warrant requirement. One such exception is an investigatory stop of a person. An investigative detention, also called a Terry stop, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), 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. An investigative detention that is premised on less than reasonable and articulable suspicion is an unlawful seizure, and evidence discovered during the course of an unconstitutional detention is subject to the exclusionary rule. (pp. 16-19) 3 2. There is no rigid time limitation on Terry stops. However, an investigatory detention may become too long if it involves a delay unnecessary to the legitimate investigation of the law enforcement officers.
The reasonableness of a continued detention is determined through application of a two-pronged inquiry. First, the detention must have been reasonable at its inception. Second, the scope of the continued detention must be reasonably related to the justification for the initial interference. Thus, the detention must be reasonable both at its inception and throughout its entire execution. A seizure that is lawful at its inception can violate the Fourth Amendment if its manner of execution unreasonably infringes interests protected by the Constitution. Therefore, in assessing whether a detention is too long in duration to be justified as an investigative stop, it is appropriate to examine whether the police diligently pursued a means of investigation that was likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly, during which time it was necessary to detain the defendant. (pp. 19-21) 3. The exclusionary rule is a judicially created remedy designed to safeguard the right of the people to be to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It has a two-fold purpose. One is to deter future unlawful police conduct by denying the prosecution the spoils of constitutional violations. The second purpose is to uphold judicial integrity by serving notice that our courts will not provide a forum for evidence procured by unconstitutional means. Because of the high price exacted by suppressing evidence, the exclusionary rule is applied to those circumstances where its remedial objectives can best be achieved. (pp. 21-22) 4. Applying those legal principles to the facts and circumstances of this case, the Court concludes that the detention of the motel room occupants, including Chisum and Woodard, was unconstitutional. Just because a location to which police officers are dispatched is a high-crime area does not mean that the residents in that area have lesser constitutional protection from random stops. The investigative detention in this instance, like all investigatory detentions, required that the officers reasonably and particularly suspected that the occupants in Room 221 engaged in, or were about to engage in, some form of criminal activity. Because the officers exercised their own discretion and declined to issue a summons for a noise violation, they essentially concluded that the occupants of Room 221 were not engaging in any criminal activity. Moreover, there is no evidence in the record that any occupants in Room 221 were about to engage in some form of criminal activity. Because the investigative detention here was based on less than reasonable suspicion, an unlawful seizure took place. The firearm discovered on Chisum in the search incident to arrest is therefore subject to the exclusionary rule. Consequently, the need to pat-down Woodard after finding the firearm on Chisum was also unnecessary, and the firearm found on Woodard is also subject to the exclusionary rule. (pp. 22-26) The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED to the trial court.