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State v. Mahoney

Decided: August 4, 1988.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CHARLES E. MAHONEY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



On appeal from Superior Court, Law Division, Essex County.

Michels, Shebell and Gaynor. The opinion of the court was delivered by Gaynor, J.A.D.

Gaynor

Pursuant to leave granted, the State appeals from an order of the Law Division granting defendant's motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a warrantless search at Newark International Airport.

On February 24, 1986 at approximately 2:00 a.m., defendant, while preparing to board a plane bound for California, read a sign at the weapons screening point which stated "All weapons must be declared by order of the Port Authority." In response to his question as to what the sign meant, Port Authority Police Officer David Hanna told defendant that it required the declaring

of a weapon if he had one on his person or in his luggage. Defendant then stated that he had a gun in his suitcase. Upon being asked to exhibit his New Jersey carrying permit, defendant acknowledged that he did not have one. With defendant's cooperation, the officer opened defendant's suitcase and retrieved a handgun as well as the clip and bullets. Advising defendant that it was illegal to carry a gun in New Jersey without the proper documents, the officer placed defendant under arrest.

Defendant was taken with his luggage to the Port Authority Police Headquarters. In accordance with standard department procedure, an inventory search of defendant's suitcase and briefcase was conducted. The search disclosed a telephone scrambler, $10,000 in cash wrapped in yellow paper, numerous typewritten and handwritten papers and notes, cocaine and marijuana. The majority of items contained in both pieces of luggage were not listed by the officers on the inventory sheet.

When making his flight reservation, defendant had asked the airline clerk whether he could transport a gun in his luggage. He was informed that it was permitted provided the gun was not loaded. That such information was being given by the airline people was evident to the Port Authority because of the number of people who responded to the sign at the screening post and were then arrested for unlawful possession of a gun. In response to this situation, the Authority had instituted a speedy bail procedure for the travelers so arrested.

In suppressing the evidence seized as the result of the warrantless search at the screening point in the airport, the motion judge reasoned:

This Court is confronted here with a situation where the defendant, after being misinformed as to the proper procedure for transporting a weapon, was forced to incriminate himself, an incrimination which led to his arrest, a situation known to be a common one by the Port Authority Police, according to Port Authority Police Officer Desmond Foster. To rephrase Officer Foster's testimony, the airlines are always telling people the wrong thing, and because of this misinformation people were always getting arrested.

In this case, this Court finds that the defendant, relying on such misinformation, transported a handgun from Florida to New Jersey. Although the State alleges in its letter brief that the defendant's gun did not have any papers, there's been absolutely no evidence demonstrating that the gun in question was not licensed in the State of Florida.

This Court also finds that the Port Authority Police had knowledge of the misinformation given out by the airlines regarding the transportation of weapons. In addition, they had knowledge that the sign posted was reasonably likely to elicit ...


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