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State v. Pohle

Decided: June 29, 1978.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT THOMAS POHLE AND ROBERT CAPUTI, DEFENDANTS



Brody, J.c.c. (temporarily assigned).

Brody

[160 NJSuper Page 580] A package containing controlled dangerous substances was carried by United Airlines (United) from Los Angeles, California, to Newark International Airport (Newark) in Elizabeth, New Jersey. A United employee had opened the package in Los Angeles and notified the local police of its contents. The Los Angeles police arranged with Newark federal narcotics agents for a controlled delivery. When defendants claimed the package at Newark on March 22, 1977, they

were arrested. The package was seized and later opened without a warrant. Defendants, who are charged with possession and possession with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 24:21-20(a) (1) and 24:21-19(a) (1), moved successfully before me to suppress the package's contents.*fn1

There were two hearings. At the first the parties were content to have the motions turn on the testimony of two federal narcotics agents assigned to Newark. The agents received a telephone alert from the Los Angeles police that a package containing controlled dangerous substances, about the size of a shirt box, was being carried as freight aboard a United flight bound for Newark. According to the Los Angeles police, an airline employee at the Los Angeles International Airport had X-rayed the package while processing it for shipment and as a result became suspicious of its contents. The employee opened the package and found inside towelling, socks, $5,000 in cash, and about 1,000 methaqualone tablets. He then called the police, who examined and repackaged the contents.

The Los Angeles police arranged for the pilot of the plane to deliver the package to the federal agents at Newark. The agents arranged for the addressee to pick up the package at the airline counter where it would ordinarily be claimed.

Everything went according to plan. Defendant Pohle claimed the package and walked hurriedly out of the building, the agents following discreetly behind. As Pohle entered a waiting car operated by defendant Caputi, the agents placed them both under arrest and seized the package from Pohle. An hour after the arrest the agents opened the package and found the contents to be as described by the Los

Angeles police. No warrant had been obtained to search the package.

The State justifies the New Jersey search as incident to defendants' lawful arrest. The lawfulness of the arrests is not in dispute. A warrant is not necessary to render lawful an arrest based, as here, upon probable cause. United States v. Watson , 423 U.S. 411, 96 S. Ct. 820, 46 L. Ed. 2d 598 (1976), reh. den. 424 U.S. 979, 96 S. Ct. 1488, 47 L. Ed. 2d 750 (1976). A lawful arrest authorizes the seizure of items within the arrestee's reach in order to prevent destruction of evidence and avert danger to arresting officers. Chimel v. California , 395 U.S. 752, 89 S. Ct. 2034, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685 (1969). A lawful arrest also authorizes the seizure and search of items intimately associated with the arrestee's person and customarily surrendered as part of arrest procedures. United States v. Edwards , 415 U.S. 800, 94 S. Ct. 1234, 39 L. Ed. 2d 771 (1974) (clothing); United States v. Robinson , 414 U.S. 218, 94 S. Ct. 467, 38 L. Ed. 2d 427 (1973) (contents of arrestee's pockets).

However, a lawful arrest does not authorize opening a seized container less intimately associated with the person of the arrestee, such as a footlocker, briefcase or satchel. United States v. Chadwick , 433 U.S. 1, 16, 97 S. Ct. 2476, 2486, 53 L. Ed. 2d 538, 551, n. 10 (1977) (footlocker); United States v. Berry , 560 F.2d 861, 864 (7 Cir. 1977) (briefcase); State v. Parker , 153 N.J. Super. 481, 488-90 (App. Div. 1977) (satchel). A sealed package about the size of a shirt box is similarly not intimately associated with the person of the arrestee, and a person carrying such a package has a reasonable expectation that its contents will remain private despite his arrest while carrying it. While police have the right to seize the package as an incident of arrest, they may not search its contents without a warrant.

In the present case, however, that warrant requirement is beside the point. No search occurred when the agents opened the package at Newark. The controlled delivery of

the package was a single episode. It began when the United employee X-rayed it, opened and inspected its contents in Los Angeles. It continued when the Los Angeles police examined the contents, replaced them in the package, resealed it and arranged for its delivery by the pilot to the federal agents at Newark. It continued while Pohle, continuously on the brink of arrest, picked up the package and left the terminal. It concluded when the agents retrieved the package before he opened it. The police exercised continuous control over the package from their examination of its contents in Los Angeles to their reexamination of its contents in New Jersey. Re-examination by law enforcement ...


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