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State v. Dickey

March 04, 1998


September Term 1997

Argued October 21, 1997

On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 294 N.J. Super. 619 (1996).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'hern, J.

The question in this appeal is whether the investigative detention of motorists following a traffic stop was sufficiently limited in scope and duration to remain within the bounds authorized by Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968) and United States v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675, 105 S. Ct. 1568, 84 L. Ed. 2d 605 (1985). We find, in the circumstances of this case, that the duration of the detention and the degree of intrusion upon Fourth Amendment interests exceeded permitted bounds. The evidence that resulted from the illegal detention is inadmissible in the defendant's criminal trial. United States v. Ramos, 42 F.3d 1160, 1164 (8th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1134, 115 S. Ct. 2015, 131 L. Ed. 2d 1013 (1995).


At 10:36 p.m on February 12, 1994, defendant, Theodore Dickey, was a passenger in a car driven by Dion Parker on I-95, the connection between the New Jersey Turnpike and the George Washington Bridge. *fn1 Parker was driving thirty-four miles per hour in a fifty-five mile-per-hour zone. His car was in the middle lane, causing other cars to pass him in the right lane.

A New Jersey State Police officer pulled the car over. The trooper approached the driver's side window and requested that Parker produce his license, insurance card, and registration. Parker turned over his license but did not produce any registration or proof of insurance. According to the trooper, Parker seemed very nervous. His eyes were bloodshot, and his hands were trembling. Parker told the trooper that the vehicle belonged to a friend named "Leon" but could not furnish Leon's last name or address. Parker gave the officer only a vague description of where he was coming from.

The trooper then asked Dickey to exit the car. Dickey appeared "extremely agitated" and paced about at the rear of the car. Dickey told the trooper that his cousin Leon owned the car but could not provide Leon's last name or address. He said that he (Dickey) and Parker were coming from Manhattan.

The trooper asked for consent to search the car. Both refused to sign the consent form. The trooper searched the passenger compartment for the registration or insurance card. Finding neither, the trooper asked the two to return to the State Police barracks. He explained that he had to verify the ownership of the car. They assented, were informed of their Miranda rights, handcuffed, and placed in the rear of the trooper's car. (It is State Police practice that when there is no partition between the front and rear of the car, troopers handcuff any rear-seat passengers.) After giving Miranda warnings to the pair, the trooper asked Parker why he was so nervous. Parker replied, "Nothing is in the ride. I'm not nervous." The trooper then asked why he told him nothing was in the car, and Parker stated that nothing was in the trunk. Thinking that there might be drugs present because of Parker's reference to the trunk, the trooper called a "K-9 unit" to have a narcotics detection dog brought to the barracks. The car was towed from the highway and arrived at the barracks close to midnight.

At the barracks, the trooper informed defendant and Parker that they were not free to leave until he had finished his investigation. A computer inquiry on the license plates did not disclose any report that the car was stolen, but the trooper did discover that the car was registered to Leon McCullum, residing at an address in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was unable to obtain McCullum's phone number.

Sometime between one and two in the morning, the K-9 Unit's reaction signaled the presence of narcotics in the trunk of the car. At 2:45 a.m., Dickey signed a consent form to permit a search of the trunk. The trooper discovered approximately two kilograms of cocaine in the trunk.

Parker and Dickey were charged with first-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and third-degree possession of cocaine. Before trial, defendant moved to suppress the cocaine found in the trunk. The trial court denied the motion.

he judge concluded: (i) the stop was proper, based on the officer's observation that the car was traveling at a slow rate of speed; (ii) the search of the interior compartment of the car was reasonable, since the defendant had not produced any form of registration for the vehicle; (iii) the movement of the vehicle and its occupants to the police barracks was reasonable, as it enabled the officers to ascertain the owner of the car and to determine whether defendant or co-defendant was authorized to operate it; and (iv) the sniff was not a search, and the dog's alert gave the police probable cause to search the car; thus the subsequent consent given by defendant was valid.

[State v. Dickey, 294 N.J. Super. 619, 624-25 (App. Div. 1996).]

Reserving the right to appeal the suppression ruling, Dickey pled guilty to the first count. The court sentenced Dickey to seven years' imprisonment with a two-and-one-half-year period of parole ineligibility.

The Appellate Division noted that the sole issue before it was whether the two-and-one-half- to three-and-one-half-hour detention between the initial stop and the establishment of probable cause was reasonable. Id. at 625-26. Defendant conceded, and the panel agreed, that the trooper was justified in pulling over Dickey and his codefendant. Id. at 625. In addition, the trooper was justified in detaining the car and the two individuals because the facts of the case supported a finding of reasonable suspicion. Ibid.

From the totality of the circumstances, it is clear that the troopers had reasonable suspicion that the driver and defendant had no right to the car and that something was amiss concerning the contents of the trunk. The troopers properly continued their attempt to find the owner, to ascertain the driver's and defendant's authority to possess the vehicle, and to bring the drug-sniffing dog to the station to determine whether drugs were present in the trunk.

[Id. at 635.]

The court observed that the trooper had a duty to investigate the ownership of the car, whether defendant was authorized to use the car, and whether the car contained contraband. Id. at 634. Because the trooper diligently pursued the investigation, the duration of the detention did not infringe on defendant's constitutional rights. Id. at 635. Even if the detention did rise to the level of an improper arrest, that Conclusion was not decisive. Defendant's arrest did not yield any evidence against defendant; it was the detention of the car that yielded the evidence. Thus, an arrest, if illegal, would not bar defendant's prosecution. Id. at 632.

We granted defendant's petition for certification. 148 N.J. 463 (1997).



The Fourth Amendment guarantees "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. "Temporary detention of individuals during the stop of an automobile by the police, even if only for a brief period and for a limited purpose, constitutes a `seizure' of `persons' within the meaning of this provision." Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806, ___, 116 S. Ct. 1769, 1772, 135 L. Ed. 2d 89, 95 (1996) (citing Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 653, 99 S. Ct. 1391, 1396, 59 L. Ed. 2d 660, 667 (1979); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 556, 96 S. Ct. 3074, 3082, 49 L. Ed. 2d 1116, 1127 (1976); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878, 95 S. Ct. 2574, 2578, 45 L. Ed. 2d 607, 614 (1975)). An automobile stop is thus subject to the constitutional imperative that it not be "unreasonable" as that concept is defined under Fourth Amendment law. Prouse, supra, 440 U.S. at 663, 99 S. Ct. at 1401, 59 L. Ed. 2d at 673. As a general rule, "the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred." Whren, supra, 517 U.S. at ___, 116 S. Ct. at 1772, 135 L. Ed. 2d at 95-96; see Prouse, supra, 440 U.S. at 659, 99 S. Ct. at 1399, 59 L. Ed. 2d at 671; Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 109, 98 S. Ct. 330, 332, 54 L. Ed. 2d 331, 336 (1977) (per curiam).

The Terry Court created a two-part test designed to measure the reasonableness of an investigative stop against the intrusion on the detainee's right to be secure from unreasonable searches. Under this test, we must consider

whether the officer's action was justified at its inception, and whether it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which ...

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