On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County.
King, Brody and Landau. The opinion of the court was delivered by King, P.J.A.D.
[260 NJSuper Page 13] The State appeals, by leave granted, R. 2:2-3(b), from an order suppressing evidence secured as a result of defendant's arrest on a bench warrant issued for failure to appear in municipal court. After making the arrest and search, the police discovered that defendant had posted bail on the bench warrant
and been released from jail 42 days before her arrest. She then had pled guilty to the underlying charge and the bench warrant had been judicially marked "vacated" 27 days before her arrest. The police records had never been corrected to show that the bench warrant was no longer outstanding at the time of arrest.
While the officer who made the arrest no doubt did so blamelessly and in good faith reliance on the records available to him at police headquarters, the arrest was without legal authority. We agree that the evidence seized in the course of this good faith but illegal arrest must be suppressed. We affirm.
These are the facts as established by Judge Sachar's findings at the hearing on the suppression motion. On February 14, 1987 defendant Alvae Moore wrote a bad check for $315. Her victim swore a municipal complaint on February 24, 1987 in the Plainfield Municipal Court. On May 22, 1989 the court issued a bench warrant for defendant's failure to appear for a plea on the bad check charge. The warrant stated, in standard language, that "defendant may be held to bail before an authorized official if the amount of the bail is shown above." The bail amount recorded on the warrant was $250.
On May 23, 1989 the warrant was faxed as a detainer by the Plainfield Police Department to the Somerset County Jail where defendant was then held on unrelated charges from Watchung Borough and eventually was sentenced to serve a county jail term. On October 10, 1989 defendant's family posted the $250 bail with the Plainfield Municipal Court. On October 13, 1989 the Somerset County Jail received a bail receipt from the Plainfield Municipal Court and released defendant, effectively lifting the bench warrant detainer. On October 25, 1989 defendant appeared in the Plainfield Municipal Court and pled guilty to the bad check charge. The bench warrant then was marked: "recalled, summons returned" by Plainfield court personnel.
On November 21, 1989 defendant was arrested by Officer Reid of the Plainfield Police Department who acted on the mistaken belief that a valid arrest warrant was still outstanding for her. The search incident to the arrest revealed two plastic vials of cocaine weighing .205 grams. The grand jury charged defendant with third-degree possession of cocaine in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1).
The State contends that the Plainfield Municipal Court neither notified the Plainfield Police Department when bail was posted on the bench warrant detainer nor gave notice of the later recall of the warrant by the court. The State claims that since the Plainfield police were not at fault, the arrest should stand. The defendant disputes the Police Department's claim of lack of fault. Defendant also claims that the arrest was invalid no matter where the administrative fault may reside because the warrant twice had been rescinded or vacated, once by posting bail and once by court order.
There is no dispute that the arresting officer acted in good faith in executing what he thought was a valid warrant extant on the log book of his department. He knew defendant by sight, from school and the neighborhood. He had remembered that an active warrant for her was outstanding on the police log. He personally verified the active warrant, allegedly "physically lodged at the police station," by radio dispatch before he made the arrest and search on the streets of Plainfield.
At the suppression hearing, considerable murky testimony was devoted to whether the error was the fault of the police department, the municipal court staff, or the county sheriff's personnel. In our view, the evidence does not clearly or conclusively establish exactly who was at fault or to what extent in the circumstance. Judge Sachar found that the Police Department at least shared administrative culpability with the municipal court staff and probably with the sheriff's office as well. The ...