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State v. Williams

Decided: April 12, 1971.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOSEPH WILLIAMS, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Lewis, Matthews and Mintz. The opinion of the court was delivered by Mintz, J.A.D. Matthews, J.A.D. (dissenting).

Mintz

Defendant appeals from a judgment of conviction after a jury trial for unlawful possession of heroin. On this appeal he argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress the bags of heroin found in his motor vehicle, which he claims were seized in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

The facts surrounding the search and seizure are not seriously disputed. As the result of complaints received by the police of "narcotics activity" in the area of Orange and Nesbitt Streets in the City of Newark, that City's narcotics squad conducted a surveillance of the area commencing about 11:00 P.M. on August 20, 1968. The police testified that at about this time they observed defendant park his white Cadillac at the curb and engage in conversation with an individual who was a known narcotics offender. No other conduct was observed between these individuals. Defendant then drove away and left the area. Approximately 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours later, he returned to the area in the same motor vehicle, this time accompanied by two females. The known narcotics user with whom he had been seen conversing earlier was no longer present. As soon as defendant parked his automobile, a police car pulled up and parked behind him. A police officer and two detectives got out of the police car and approached defendant who was seated in his automobile.

The police officer testified that he "possibly" intended to ask defendant for his automobile registration, which he had a right to do. N.J.S.A. 39:3-29. However, before he had a chance to do so, he observed defendant look toward him

as he approached the car, and make a downward furtive motion, throwing a pink package to the floor of the car. One of the detectives reached into the automobile and retrieved the pink package which contained 114 decks of heroin (seven stacks).

We find that the motion to suppress was properly denied. Initially, we observe that one of the well-established exceptions to the general requirement that a search warrant is necessary is when the attendant circumstances are exigent or emergent. State v. Dennis , 113 N.J. Super. 292, 297 (App. Div. 1971). Clearly such circumstances here existed.

We conclude that probable cause justified the instant search. Probable cause has been defined as a reasonable basis for a belief that a crime has been or is being committed. State v. Contursi , 44 N.J. 422, 429 (1965). As observed in State v. Kasabucki , 52 N.J. 110:

Probable cause is a flexible, nontechnical concept. It includes a conscious balancing of the governmental need for enforcement of the criminal law against the citizens' constitutionally protected right of privacy. It must be regarded as representing an effort to accommodate those often competing interests so as to serve them both in a practical fashion without unduly hampering the one or unreasonably impairing the significant content of the other (at 116).

The use or sale of illegal drugs, which has reached alarming proportions, is carried on "cautiously and furtively and in as many different ways and by as many conceivable methods as human ingenuity can devise in order to escape detection and criminal consequences * * *." See State v. Romeo , 43 N.J. 188, 207 (1964). In this framework the total circumstances are to be assessed. State v. Contursi, supra , 44 N.J. at 431.

In appraising the factual situation we are mindful that a police officer is not a constitutional lawyer. When assessing the quality of his conduct, "the common and specialized experience and work-a-day knowledge of policemen must be taken into account" and the entire transaction considered "in a common-sense and realistic fashion." State v. Contursi,

supra , 44 N.J. at 431; State v. Dennis , 113 N.J. Super. 292 ...


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