January 8, 2007
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
THOMAS A. RAIFORD,*FN1 DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Indictment No. 04-08-1234-I.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 9, 2006
Before Judges Cuff and Fuentes.
Defendant Thomas A. Raiford pled guilty to one count of fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon (switchblade knife), in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3e. He was sentenced to a term of nine months, and ordered to pay the mandatory fines and penalties. Prior to accepting the guilty plea, the trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress the weapon seized by the police at the time of his arrest, as being the product of an unconstitutional detention. Defendant now appeals from this ruling, raising the following argument:
THE OFFICERS' ACTION OF GRABBING DEFENDANT, PULLING HIM OFF HIS BIKE AND CHASING HIM DOWN, SUBJECTED DEFENDANT TO AN ARREST WITHOUT THE REQUISITE PROBABLE CAUSE, AND BOTH DEFENDANT'S STATEMENT AND THE SWITCHBLADE KNIFE FOUND IN DEFENDANT'S JACKET MUST BE SUPPRESSED AS FRUIT OF THE POISONOUS TREE.
We reject this argument and affirm. We are satisfied that the police had sufficient probable cause to arrest defendant. The search of defendant's person that revealed the switchblade was therefore a valid search incident to a lawful arrest. We gather the following facts from the record developed at the evidential hearing conducted to consider defendant's motion to suppress.
On May 20, 2004, at approximately 1:38 a.m., Edison Police Officers Brian Maurath and Keith Jackson were on patrol in a marked police vehicle traveling on Inman Avenue. Maurath was driving the vehicle and Jackson, a trainee, was in the passenger seat. At around the same time, defendant was riding his bicycle on Inman Avenue.
According to Maurath, they first noticed defendant as he rode his bicycle through a stop sign as he entered Inman Avenue, a main thoroughfare in Edison. As he rode by, defendant nearly collided with the police vehicle. In fact, defendant had to abruptly turn right to avoid crashing into the police car. Defendant continued northbound on Inman Avenue, swerving on and off, over the double yellow line dissecting the roadway.
The officers turned their vehicle around on Inman Avenue, and began driving northbound behind defendant. Undaunted by his near-miss with the police, defendant continued to ride in the middle of the road, erratically, "snaking . . . back and forth over the double yellow line."
At that point, the officers activated their overhead lights, stopped and exited their vehicle, and attempted to inquire from defendant why he was riding his bicycle in such a fashion. As the officers approached, defendant began riding the bicycle in circles in the middle of the road, and directly in front of the police vehicle. Defendant also ignored the officers' repeated requests to get off the bicycle.
As defendant rode, the officers concluded that he may be under the influence of alcohol, and was therefore at risk of either injuring himself or someone else. After a short pursuit, Jackson grabbed defendant's jacket, getting him off the bicycle. This proved ineffectual. Defendant was able to get out of the jacket, and began to run southbound on Inman Ave.
Maurath pursued defendant on foot, while Jackson pursued him in the police vehicle, all the while yelling for defendant to stop. Seeing several marked police vehicles approaching, defendant stopped, and stated, "[Y]ou got me, I got two warrants, I got a switchblade in my jacket pocket. I smoked a blunt, but I got nothing on me."*fn2 Marauth drew his service revolver, ordered defendant to get on the ground, handcuffed him, and advised him of his Miranda*fn3 rights. Jackson recovered defendant's jacket and bicycle, and removed the switchblade from the jacket.
Although defendant disputed this account of the events, the motion judge was free to accept the officers' version of events, and by implication, reject defendant's account as not credible. As these facts amply demonstrate, the police had sufficient probable cause to detain defendant based on violations of the statutory provisions governing bicycle riding on public roads.
Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by chapter four of Title 39 of the Revised Statutes and all supplements thereto except as to those provisions thereof which by their nature can have no application. [N.J.S.A. 39:4-14.1a.]
In State v. Citarella, 154 N.J. 272 (1998), a police officer observed defendant riding a bicycle off a connecting bridge walkway linking New York and New Jersey. Id. at 276. Aware that drug traffickers often used bicycles to transport illicit narcotics from New York City, the officer approached defendant to ask some questions. Ibid. When defendant attempted to flee, the police chased him, believing that he might have been under the influence of narcotics. Ibid. The Supreme Court upheld the validity of the arrest, holding that the ensuing search and seizure were valid, because defendant's seemingly illegal activities gave the police reasonable suspicion. Id. at 280-81. The Court further held that "[defendant's] flight from [the officer] became an additional factor that heightened the level of reasonable articulable suspicion already engendered by [defendant's] antecedent actions." Id. at 281.
Here, both officers actually witnessed defendant performing illegal activity in the form of traffic violations. Based on these observations, they formed the reasonable belief that he was possibly intoxicated. As they approached defendant, his decision to ride the bicycle in circles in the middle of the street, further corroborated the officers' suspicions. As in Citarella, defendant's flight "became an additional factor that heightened the [officer's] level of reasonable articulable suspicion." Citarella, supra, 154 N.J. at 281.