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State v. Adams

Decided: January 21, 1975.

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WALLACE ADAMS, DEFENDANT



McGrath, J.c.c., Temporarily Assigned.

Mcgrath

This is a motion to suppress evidence seized from defendant incident to his arrest on a disorderly person's charge in the early hours of February 13, 1974.

Defendant and a companion were detained by members of the Elizabeth Police Department after admitting that they had not paid their bill at 400 Diner earlier in the evening, as reported to the police. The officers returned to the diner with the two men, where a woman identified them as the subjects of the report and agreed to sign a complaint. The men were then arrested, patted down and transported to headquarters. After being booked on charges of failure to pay a restaurant bill, N.J.S.A. 2A:170-47, Officer Richard Pelesko, one of the arresting officers, testified that it was the responsibility of the desk sergeant to take defendant's belongings and hold them until his release.

Another report was received that night from Miss Melinda Jones that she had been robbed of her purse at the Penn Central Station about 11 P.M., February 12. On the morning of the 13th, Detective James O'Connell called Miss Jones to headquarters for questioning about the robbery. After she described the items contained in the stolen purse, including a Bahamian 50-cent piece, the detective testified

that he asked her to step into the courtroom to determine whether she could identify anyone there as her assailant. Approximately 75 people were in court and after five or ten minutes the detective joined her. She identified defendant in the prisoner's dock where he was awaiting arraignment on the disorderly charge.

On their way back to Detective O'Connell's desk to file a complaint for the robbery he suggested that they examine the contents of defendant's property box for any evidence of the robbery. He stated that Miss Jones' reference to the Bahamian coin suggested to him the advisability of checking defendant's property box. He further testified that he did not procure a search warrant because he believed the property was in police custody, making a warrant unnecessary. Miss Jones spotted her ring, with the letters P.E.A.C.E. inscribed, which had been in the stolen purse. The defense characterizes this activity as a warrantless search and seeks to suppress the use of the ring as evidence.

There is no doubt that a search of the person incident to an arrest is reasonable. State v. Doyle, 42 N.J. 334, 343 (1964); Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 89 S. Ct., 2034, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685 (1969). The time lapse from the point of this defendant's arrest to the seizure of his belongings at headquarters does not affect its reasonableness. In State v. Mark, 46 N.J. 262, 278 (1966), the court found no legal significance in the fact that a period of time elapsed from defendant's arrest to the taking of his clothes at the jail for use as evidence. On the contrary, the court found it to be lawful police procedure and indeed preferable to taking the clothes at the scene of the arrest.

There is no evidence in this case that the original seizure of the property was for purposes other than inventory and safekeeping. While that procedure was clearly proper, the issue before this court is whether the subsequent examination of the contents constituted a search which required a warrant.

This question has not been decided in New Jersey although it has been dealt with a number of times in the federal courts. Well reasoned opinions of federal courts, while not binding, are persuasive on the issue of reasonableness of a search and seizure, in the absence of decisions of New Jersey reviewing courts. State v. Chance, 71 N.J. Super. 77, 79 (Cty. Ct. 1961).

This question has not been decided in New Jersey although it has been dealt with a number of times in the federal courts. Well reasoned opinions of federal courts, while not binding, are persuasive on the issue of reasonableness of a search and seizure, in the absence of decisions of New Jersey reviewing courts. State v. Chance, 71 N.J. Super. 77, 79 (Cty. Ct. 1961).

In the recent case of United States v. Edwards, 415 U.S. 800, 94 S. Ct. 1234, 39 L. Ed. 2d 771 (1974), the Supreme Court considered the reasonableness of the seizure of defendant's clothing for use as evidence while in custody at the city jail, but some ten hours after his arrest when substitutes could ...


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