A Cumberland County man is likely wishing a decision had come sooner as a divided New Jersey Supreme Court ruled his 4 year old conviction be thrown out on account of an illegal search. He was initially charged with possession of cocaine after being stopped for riding his bicycle on a sidewalk.
According to the Star-Ledger, the defendant and five others were stopped by an officer for violating the municipal ordinance back in 2005. When the officer asked for their identifications and called them into dispatch, he was informed one of the parties had an active warrant in California.
Prior to arresting the man on the warrant, the officer conducted a pat down search (called a “search incident to arrest”) and found cocaine in his pocket. He was charged. After the fact, the officer found out there was no California warrant and that the dispatcher was mistaken.
The state Supreme Court ruled that the search was unconstitutional and therefore the evidence seized was inadmissible. Though the prosecutor argued the officer acted appropriately with the information he had, the majority opinion written by Justice Virginia Long claimed under the prosecutor’s argument “police operatives, like the dispatcher here, are free to act heedlessly and unreasonably, so long as the last man in the chain does not do so.”
The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects us against unreasonable searches and seizures. If it’s found that a search violates your constitutional rights, the fruit (evidence) of that search will be inadmissible in court, often leading to the entire case being thrown out.
The dispatcher’s mistake was in confusing the defendant with another man listed on a California warrant. Though it was an honest mistake, it ultimately led to the defendant being found guilty on the possession of cocaine charge and another unrelated charge. He was sentenced in 2007 to three years in prison and served 9 months before being paroled.
Having a defense attorney on your side when facing criminal charges helps you identify if you’ve been the subject of an illegal search. If the police sidestepped certain procedures it could mean major benefits for your case.
If you are facing criminal charges, consulting with a defense attorney should be your first priority. Contact me today for a free initial consultation on your New Jersey case.