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State v. Barcia

Decided: July 27, 1989.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
FRANK A. BARCIA AND ALPHONSE J. SIRACUSA, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County.

King, Brody and Skillman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Skillman, J.A.D.

Skillman

[235 NJSuper Page 314] Based upon evidence obtained after the automobile in which they were riding as passengers was stopped at a police roadblock located at an exit from the George Washington Bridge, defendants were charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance, contrary to N.J.S.A. 24:21-20a(1); possession of a controlled dangerous substance with the intent to distribute, contrary to N.J.S.A. 24:21-19a(1); possession of narcotics paraphernalia, contrary to N.J.S.A. 24:21-47; being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, contrary to N.J.S.A. 24:21-20b; and being in possession of a controlled dangerous substance while in a motor vehicle, contrary to N.J.S.A. 39:4-49.1.*fn1 The prosecutor's office administratively terminated prosecution of the indictable offenses and proceeded solely with respect to the disorderly persons charges of possession of narcotics paraphernalia and being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance.*fn2

The trial court granted defendants' motion to suppress the evidence obtained at the roadblock for the reasons expressed in a written opinion reported at 228 N.J. Super. 267. The court concluded that the roadblock violated the right to be free from unreasonable governmental seizures protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution, id. at 274-286, the right to freedom of interstate travel protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, id. at 278-281, and the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, id. at 286-289. We granted the State's motion for leave to appeal.

We affirm the trial court's suppression order insofar as it is based upon the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. However, we find the court's discussion of the constitutional right to travel and Commerce Clause to be superfluous and, in some respects, misleading. Therefore, we disapprove of those parts of its opinion.

The pertinent facts are set forth at length in the trial court opinion. Id. at 271-273. To briefly summarize, the Bergen County Prosecutor, in conjunction with local police officials, decided to establish roadblocks on roadways exiting from the George Washington Bridge. The stated objective of the roadblocks was to apprehend New Jersey residents who had purchased and consumed cocaine in the Washington Heights area of New York City as they were returning to New Jersey across the bridge. The police apprehended defendants in Fort Lee, several hundred yards west of where the lower level of the bridge joins New Jersey, at a roadblock conducted between 7:30 p.m. and 10:50 p.m. on Friday, September 12, 1986. The police stopped every twentieth vehicle which passed through the roadblock and required the driver to produce a license, registration and insurance card. If this initial stop revealed evidence of drugs or that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the police detained the driver and conducted further

investigation. During the roadblock at which defendants were apprehended, 59 vehicles were directed from the main thoroughfare and 9 persons were arrested. The roadblock caused substantial traffic congestion on the bridge and in New York City. In fact, the trial court found that

as a result of the roadblock here under scrutiny, traffic came to a complete halt from Fort Lee, New Jersey, over the George Washington Bridge, down the West Side Highway in Manhattan to West 56th Street; from Fort Lee, New Jersey, across the George Washington Bridge, up Route 95 to Riverdale in the Bronx; and from Fort Lee, New Jersey, across the George Washington Bridge, over the top of Manhattan, down the FDR Drive, and across to the Triboro Bridge in Queens. Captain Robert Herb of the Bergen County Police Department, (at this writing the Sheriff of Bergen County), who was the highest ranking uniformed officer supervising the roadblock, testified that as a result of the roadblock here under scrutiny over one million motor vehicles came to a complete stop, in some cases for in excess of four hours, and that it was not until some hours after the roadblock in Fort Lee itself was dismantled that this traffic morass of monumental proportions unwound itself. [ Id. at 280-281; emphasis in original].

I

A police roadblock resulting in the detention of the occupants of a motor vehicle constitutes a "seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and Article I, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653, 99 S. Ct. 1391, 1395, 59 L. Ed. 2d 660 (1979); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 556, 96 S. Ct. 3074, 3082, 49 L. Ed. 2d 1116 (1976); State v. Kirk, 202 N.J. Super. 28, 38 (1985). Ordinarily, the police may stop a motor vehicle, even briefly, only if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that the occupants are engaged in unlawful activity. Delaware v. Prouse, supra, 440 U.S. at 663, 99 S. Ct. at 1401; United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S., 873, 95 S. Ct. 2574, 45 L. Ed. 2d 607 (1975); State v. Egan, 213 N.J. Super. 133, 135 (App.Div.1986). However, a motor vehicle may be stopped without a reasonable suspicion, if a roadblock is established by supervisory police officials and the time, location and operation is reasonable and does not bear "arbitrarily or oppressively on motorists as a class." United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, supra, 428 U.S. at 559,

96 S. Ct. at 3083; accord State v. Kirk, supra, 202 N.J. Super. at 40-41. The validity of a roadblock, like the validity of other temporary detentions of persons for investigatory purposes, must be judged by "a weighing of the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the severity of the interference with ...


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