Newark, NJ- New Jersey Supreme Court justices recently decided a case that challenged the difference between a police stop and detention. In the case, State of New Jersey vs. Lurdes Rosario, which was decided on June 6, 2017; the New Jersey Supreme Court was asked to make clear when an officer’s field inquiry transitions into an investigative detention in criminal cases. The distinction is important because the individual subjected to a field inquiry should feel free to leave whereas someone subject to detention should be informed of their Miranda rights.
In May 2013, the defendant, Lurdes Rosario, was sitting in her parked car near her apartment when a police officer approached her. Her interaction with police resulted in her arrest for possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.
Rosario pleaded guilty to the charges but appealed, arguing that the evidence obtained in the stop and statements she made were obtained from an improper detention and questioning without giving her a Miranda warning.
On April 27, 2013, police in Colts Neck, New Jersey received an anonymous tip alleging that the defendant, Lourdes Rosario, was selling heroin out of her home and car, an older model burgundy Chevy Lumina. Several days later, around 11:30 p.m. Rosario was sitting in her Chevy Lumina, parked outside her apartment when an officer approached her vehicle.
The officer parked his patrol car perpendicular to Rosario’s car blocking her exit and used his spotlight to illuminate her vehicle. The officer testified that he saw the defendant “scuffling around” in the front passenger seat and decided to approach her vehicle.
During testimony, the officer said he did not immediately connect Rosario with the anonymous tip even though he remembered the address. According to court documents, the officer said he recognized Rosario as the subject of the anonymous tip when he approached her car and realized he arrested her on drug charges in the past six months.
After approaching her vehicle, the officer began questioning Rosario asking her what she was doing. She told him she was smoking a cigarette, but there was no evidence to support that. When challenged, Rosario changed her story and told the officer she was putting on makeup. The officer noted that it was dark, so her response made no sense and asked Rosario if there was anything in her car he, “should know about.” During testimony at the suppression hearing, the officer said Rosario responded by saying “it’s the same thing you arrested me [before] in the past.”
She then handed him an eyeglass case which contained a powdery white substance which the officer assumed was either cocaine or heroin. At that point, Rosario was arrested and charged with possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.
Rosario pleaded guilty to third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance. Later, she filed an appeal claiming that the trial court erred when it refused to suppress evidence of the contraband and the statements she made to the arresting officer. The Appellate Division denied her motion to suppress, stating that the evidence and statement were obtained without violating Rosario’s constitutional rights. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided to review her suppression issues and justices sought to determine when the interaction between the officer and Lurdes escalated from a field inquiry to an investigative detention.
The NJ Supreme Court concluded that no one in Rosario’s situation would have felt free to leave from the moment the officer prevented her departure, so the investigative detention had begun. During a field inquiry, an individual should feel free to end their encounter with police and refrain from incriminating themselves because they are unclear about the nature of their interaction.
New Jersey Supreme Court and Appellate Division decisions can affect the defense strategy used in each person’s case. Even if you are facing criminal charges, you have rights that all officers should respect.
I will stand up for you and make sure that at no point during your interaction with police your rights were violated. If they are, I will use that fact in your defense. Contact my New Jersey office and set up a consultation when you are facing criminal charges in Elizabeth, East Orange, Newark or other areas of Essex County. You can reach my office by calling 1-(973) 453-2009.