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State v. Baker

Decided: November 30, 1970.


Conford, Kolovsky and Carton.

Per Curiam

Defendant was convicted of possession of two marijuana cigarettes found on his person by New Brunswick Detective Saloom as a result of a search at defendant's barber shop in that city on December 31, 1967. Since the validity of the conviction rests on the correctness of the denial of a motion to suppress the cigarettes for alleged illegality of the search, we state the facts adduced through Saloom's testimony on the hearing of the motion to suppress.

On December 31, 1967, a Sunday, Saloom and another officer were on duty "investigating gambling establishments." The dispatcher had received complaints at 9:30 A.M. of "noise and disorderly crowds coming out of 56 Albany Street." Saloom and another officer went to Albany Street and parked half a block from the store at the address. An unidentified man Saloom knew "walked out of" the store and "smelled like drink." Saloom "asked him where did he get the drink from, because he was a person that I know that likes to drink." The individual, who had "supplied reliable information" to Saloom in the past, said he had bought the drink at 56 Albany Street and had paid a dollar for the "shot."

Saloom went back to headquarters, returned with three other officers to 56 Albany Street, the exterior of which is a store-front, and "walked in." They had no arrest or search warrant. They met defendant, who identified himself as the owner. They found themselves in a "main room" containing a pool table, two barber chairs, a shoeshine stand

and a showcase. Two employees of Baker were also present, in working clothes. Saloom asked defendant whether he was selling drinks, and he denied it. Then Saloom and his men proceeded to "look[ed] through everything." Seeing nothing incriminating in the main shop-room, they "gradually went to the back" of the building, searching, in turn, a women's room, a storage room and a wash room before reaching a large back room at the end of a corridor. The doors of all these rooms were open, but the large back room could not be seen from the main room in the front.

Defendant accompanied the officers on the search but there appears to have been no conversation. In the large back room the officers saw a 4 1/2' bar, two stools, a table with six chairs, and a refrigerator loaded with beer. On and in the bar was whisky, some bottles full and some partly consumed. The air conditioner in the room was on but no one was present. Saloom at once placed defendant under arrest for illegal sale of alcohol. He then conducted a search of his person which revealed, in a vest pocket, two cigarettes which Saloom thought, and later chemical analysis revealed to be, marijuana. The officers gathered together the evidence and left. The whole episode took 30 to 40 minutes, most of which was consumed in searching the premises.

At the argument of the motion to suppress below the State sought to defend the warrantless search preceding the arrest on two theories: (a) there was probable cause to enter to arrest for illegal sale of liquor and the "search that follows is incidental to the arrest"; (b) the police had the right to enter the premises as a place open to the public, and "it was all one business establishment." In denying the motion the court said:

The Court is of the opinion that the information given by this individual, the reliable informant indicated that the sale had just been made, that is, just within a few minutes prior thereto and that the officer had a right to search the property and to see whether or not sufficient illegal -- there was evidence of an illegal sale of alcohol.

Having found such evidence, they had a right to arrest the man and that having a right to arrest the defendant, they had a right to make a search of his person.

Defendant later moved for rehearing of the motion on the basis of the incredibility of Saloom's story about the "reliable informer," in light of his account of the episode as a witness at the earlier preliminary hearing. On that occasion there was a total omission of the encounter with the "informer." When asked what had brought him to the location that Sunday morning in the company of the four other officers he said, "complaints we had received earlier." Not only was there omitted the interlude with the informer, but also, on the previous recital, the story was that Saloom came there directly with the four other officers and entered; not that he first came with only one other, parked at a distance and, after talking to the informer, returned to headquarters for the assistance of three more men. Appellate defense counsel calls our attention, moreover, to Saloom's testimony at the trial when, for the first time, he added the detail of having smelled the odor of marijuana coming from the "rear of the store." The motion judge found the discrepancies not material as to credibility in the light of the different purposes of the respective hearings. In reaffirming its decision on the motion, the court said:

The court is of the opinion that under the circumstances the police had reasonable cause to believe that a violation of the law had been committed and that under all of the circumstances that the search of the premises was reasonable. The product of the search justified the arrest of the defendant and the search of the person ...

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