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State v. Murphy

Decided: February 15, 1990.


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

Michels and Deighan. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.J.A.D.


Pursuant to leave granted by this court, the State appeals from an order of the Law Division that granted the motion of defendants Wayne John Murphy (Murphy) and Reginald C. Boyd (Boyd) to suppress evidence seized following a stop of their motor vehicle by New Jersey State Trooper John Quigley (Trooper Quigley).

Defendants were indicted by the Middlesex County Grand Jury and charged with possession of cocaine in a quantity of one-half ounce or more with at least 3.5 grams of the pure free base drug with intent to distribute in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(b)(2) (Count 1) and possession of cocaine in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1) (Count 2). In addition, Boyd was charged with preventing Trooper Quigley from effecting a lawful arrest by using physical force or violence in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2 (Count 3).

Prior to trial, defendants moved to suppress the cocaine seized by Trooper Quigley on the ground that it was the subject of an illegal warrantless search and seizure. According to the proofs at the suppression hearing, on December 11, 1987 at approximately 4:00 p.m. Trooper Quigley observed defendants' vehicle traveling south on the New Jersey Turnpike. The vehicle had a single license plate stuck in the rear window. Trooper Quigley testified that the license plate was stuck in the weather stripping in a diagonal position and that he believed

that this violated the licensing display provisions of N.J.S.A. 39:3-33. Trooper Quigley activated his overhead lights in an attempt to stop the vehicle. Murphy -- the driver -- pulled the vehicle into the left side of the roadway despite repeated hand signals and a loud speaker announcement by Trooper Quigley to move into the right shoulder. While the vehicle was in the left side of the roadway, the trooper noticed defendants making furtive movements inside the vehicle. Specifically, Trooper Quigley observed defendants reaching below the dashboard while they looked directly at him. The vehicle then moved to the right shoulder of the highway. Trooper Quigley approached the vehicle with his weapon drawn because he feared for his safety as a result of the conduct exhibited by these defendants.

Trooper Quigley asked Murphy to step outside of the vehicle. As Murphy got out of the vehicle, Trooper Quigley observed two large druggist folds protruding from the top of Murphy's sneakers. Trooper Quigley recognized these folds as a common way of packaging drugs and confiscated them. The folds contained a white powdery substance which Trooper Quigley believed to be cocaine. He placed Murphy under arrest and read him his Miranda rights. Trooper Quigley then ordered Boyd out of the vehicle. Boyd resisted arrest and a struggle ensued. During the struggle, a plastic bag of what appeared to be cocaine was dislodged from Boyd's waistband and fell to the ground. Trooper Quigley arrested Boyd and read him his Miranda rights. Trooper Quigley searched Boyd and discovered four folds of suspected cocaine in Boyd's pants.

At the conclusion of the proofs, the trial court granted defendants' motion to suppress the cocaine. The trial court reasoned that the vehicle complied with the licensing display provisions of the motor vehicle statute and, therefore, Trooper Quigley did not have probable cause to stop the vehicle. The State now contends that the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence because Trooper Quigley had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a motor vehicle violation had occurred, and,

therefore, was justified in stopping the vehicle. We agree and reverse.

Both the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution protect "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. . . ." U.S. Const. amend. IV; N.J. Const. Art. 1, para. 7. "The Fourth Amendment does not, however, proscribe all searches and seizures. Rather, it only proscribes those that are judicially deemed unreasonable." State v. Anderson, 198 N.J. Super. 340, 348, 486 A.2d 1311 (App.Div.), certif. den. 101 N.J. 283, 501 A.2d 946 (1985). See State v. Davis, 104 N.J. 490, 498-499, 517 A.2d 859 (1986); State v. Bruzzese, 94 N.J. 210, 216-217, 463 A.2d 320 (1983), cert. den., 465 U.S. 1030, 104 S. Ct. 1295, 79 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1984); State v. Campbell, 53 N.J. 230, 233, 250 A.2d 1 (1969). Indeed, "the touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness." State v. Bruzzese, supra, 94 N.J. at 217, 463 A.2d 320. In cases involving warrantless searches, the burden is on the State to prove the overall reasonableness and validity of the search. Id. at 218, 463 A.2d 320.

The resolution of such Fourth Amendment issues is particularly dependent upon the facts involved. Commonly, such constitutional issues involve no more than a seasoned "value judgment upon a factual complex rather than an evident application of a precise rule of law." State v. Funicello, 60 N.J. 60, 72, 286 A.2d 55 (Weintraub, C.J., concurring), cert. den., sub nom. New Jersey v. Presha, 408 U.S. 942, 92 S. Ct. 2849, 33 L. Ed. 2d 766 (1972). This is especially true with regard to investigatory stops and detentions. Our Supreme Court has held that under a narrowly defined and controlled set of circumstances, such detentions can be ...

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