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State v. Hughes

January 7, 1997


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

Approved for Publication January 9, 1997.

Before Judges Michels, Kleiner and Coburn. 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


Following denial of his motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant to a warrantless search, defendant Frederick A. Hughes pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled dangerous substance, to wit: cocaine, a crime of the third degree, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1). The trial court committed defendant to the custody of the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections for five years, which was to be served concurrently with a sentence imposed for a parole violation. In addition, the trial court imposed a $1,000 Drug Enforcement Demand Reduction penalty, a $50 forensic laboratory fee, a $50 Violent Crimes Compensation Board penalty, a $75 Safe Neighborhood Service Fund assessment and suspended defendant's New Jersey driver's license for six months. Defendant appeals.

The proofs at the suppression hearing established that on June 1, 1994, at approximately 6:42 p.m., Officer Kenneth Eller of the Gloucester City Police Department was on routine patrol. Officer Eller was located at the corner of King Street and Broadway in Gloucester City. He was in the northbound lane facing the City of Camden assisting a motorist with directions when he observed defendant traveling by bicycle southbound on Broadway, coming from Camden. Based upon his experience, Officer Eller knew that this route between Gloucester City and Camden was an illicit drug route: people either walking or bicycling between Camden and Gloucester City were usually carrying illegal drugs.

As he rode past Officer Eller, defendant sped up. Officer Eller left the motorist, made a U-turn, and began following defendant. Defendant was aware of the officer's presence as he kept looking back at the officer while he was being followed. Officer Eller accelerated his vehicle so that he was within ten to fifteen feet behind defendant. While he followed defendant, Officer Eller never illuminated his overhead lights or ordered defendant to stop.

As defendant was traveling down Warren Street, Officer Eller observed defendant reach into his waistband and pull out a black object. Defendant appeared to look for a place to throw the object and finally threw it against a curb where it landed. Defendant traveled approximately fifty feet further from where he threw the object and then voluntarily stopped his bicycle on the corner of Warren Street and Broadway.

In the meantime, Officer Eller radioed for backup. When defendant voluntarily stopped, Officer Eller pulled up to him to ask him his name and what he was doing. At the time that Officer Eller was getting out of his car, Sergeant James arrived as the backup unit. Officer Eller requested that the sergeant stay with defendant while he went back to retrieve the discarded object. Officer Eller located the object exactly where defendant threw it. It contained seven bags of cocaine.

At the Conclusion of the proofs, Judge Natal in the Law Division found that defendant was not seized by Officer Eller's actions, and denied the motion to suppress the evidence. In reaching this Conclusion, the trial court reasoned that there exists a need for officers to engage in an investigative procedure in order to gather evidence of a crime and that Officer Eller's experience with the traffic route from Camden warranted the officer to at least stop and talk to defendant in order to find out his name. The trial court found that Officer Eller had not stopped defendant at the time defendant had abandoned the drugs. Further, the trial court found that after Officer Eller picked up the abandoned drugs, he had a right to arrest defendant. Defendant appealed.

Defendant seeks a reversal of the order denying his motion to suppress evidence, a reversal of his conviction and the sentence imposed thereon, and a remand to the trial court for further proceedings. He contends that where the police had no reasonable basis to believe that he was engaged in criminal activity, the pursuit and ultimate arrest violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the United States Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution. We disagree and affirm.

The United States Constitution protects persons from unreasonable searches and seizures. U.S. Const. amend. IV. In considering whether police conduct amounts to a seizure implicating the Fourth Amendment, a court must consider all of the circumstances surrounding a particular incident. United States v. ...

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