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State v. Malia

February 2, 1996

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT AND CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
MICHAEL J. MALIA, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT AND CROSS-RESPONDENT.



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

Approved for Publication February 2, 1996.

Before Judges Michels, Baime and Kimmelman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Michels, P.j.a.d.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michels

The opinion of the court was delivered by MICHELS, P.J.A.D.

Tried to a jury, defendant Michael J. Malia was found guilty of possession of cocaine, a crime of the third degree, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1). The trial court denied defendant's motions for a new trial or, alternatively, a judgment of acquittal notwithstanding the verdict, and placed defendant on three years probation with strict narcotic controls and conditioned his probation upon working four days a week and obtaining his driver's license within thirty days. Finally, the trial court suspended defendant's New Jersey driver's license for six months, concurrent with and co-terminus to his previous driver's license suspension. The trial court waived the Violent Crime Compensation Board, the Drug Enforcement and Demand Reduction penalties and the forensic laboratory fee. Defendant appeals and the State cross-appeals.

Defendant seeks a reversal of his conviction and a remand for a new trial on the following grounds set forth in his letter brief:

I. THE MOTION TO SUPPRESS SHOULD HAVE BEEN GRANTED BECAUSE THE STATE FAILED TO PROVE THAT ORDERING DEFENDANT TO EXIT THE VEHICLE AND SEARCHING THE AREA UNDER HIS SEAT WAS JUSTIFIED AND REASONABLE IN SCOPE.

II. THE INACCURATE AND OUT-DATED JURY CHARGE ON REASONABLE DOUBT VIOLATED DEFENDANT'S FEDERAL AND STATE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS OF LAW. (Not Raised Below.)

We have carefully considered these contentions and all the arguments advanced by defendant in support of them and find that they are without merit and require only the following comments in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(2).

I.

First, we are satisfied the trial court properly denied defendant's motion to suppress the cocaine seized from defendant's motor vehicle during the roadside stop. Under both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution, a warrantless search and seizure is prima facie invalid and can be justified only if it falls within a specific exception. State v. Demeter, 124 N.J. 374, 379-80, 590 A.2d 1179 (1991); State v. Hill, 115 N.J. 169, 173, 557 A.2d 322 (1989); State v. Patino, 83 N.J. 1, 7, 414 A.2d 1327 (1980). The Fourth Amendment does not, however, proscribe all searches and seizures, rather it only proscribes those that are judicially deemed unreasonable. State v. Davis, 104 N.J. 490, 498-99, 517 A.2d 859 (1986); State v. Bruzzese, 94 N.J. 210, 216-17, 463 A.2d 320 (1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1030, 104 S. Ct. 1295, 79 L. Ed. 2d 695 (1984); See also State v. Anderson, 198 N.J. Super. 340, 348, 486 A.2d 1311 (App. Div.), certif. denied 101 N.J. 283 (1985). Indeed, "the touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness." State v. Bruzzese, supra, 94 N.J. at 217. In cases involving warrantless searches, the burden is on the State to prove the overall reasonableness and validity of the search. Id. at 218.

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." See State v. Funicello, 60 N.J. 60, 72, 286 A.2d 55 (Weintraub, C.J., Concurring), cert. denied, 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 constitutionally permissible, although based on less than probable cause. In State v. Hall, 93 N.J. 552, 561, 461 A.2d 1155, cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1008, 104 S. Ct. 526, 78 L. Ed. 2d 709 (1983), the Court pointed out in a somewhat related context that:

Our reading of Davis convinces us that for certain detentions -- those that do not entail significant intrusions upon individual privacy or freedom, are productive of reliable evidence, and can be effectuated without abuse, coercion or intimidation -- "no probable cause in the traditional sense" is necessary in order to obtain the "authorization of a judicial officer[.]" We conclude that, under a "narrowly defined" set of circumstances, such detentions can be constitutionally permissible, Davis, 39 U.S. at 727-28, 89 S. Ct. at 1398, 22 L. Ed. 2d at 681. Strictly limiting the circumstances under which such detentions take place insures that ...


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