On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Indictment No. 04-07-00487-I.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lefelt, P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lefelt, Parrillo and Sapp-Peterson.
The trial court suppressed marijuana and cocaine seized in the course of a traffic stop for driving a vehicle with dark tinted windows and without an inspection sticker. Although the parties agree that the initial stop was lawful, the trial court suppressed the evidence because it determined that the arresting officer violated defendants', Angela Baum's and Jermel Moore's, constitutional rights by expanding the detention and interrogation beyond the reason for the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion, and by failing to provide Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed. 2d 694 (1966), warnings. We granted the State's interlocutory appeal and now reverse and remand.
Here is what happened.*fn1 At about 11:45 p.m. on June 5, Officer Reese of the Bernards Township Police Department observed an unoccupied red Toyota with tinted windows parked at a gas pump of an Exxon station. The vehicle had a New Jersey license plate but no inspection sticker. A computer check revealed the vehicle had not been reported stolen, but the registered owner's license was suspended.
Reese observed the vehicle leave the station and stopped it as the vehicle entered the ramp to Interstate 78, which is a known drug courier route. Before exiting his patrol car, Reese radioed the license plate number of the stopped vehicle and his location to the dispatcher. As Reese approached the vehicle, he noticed there were four occupants, Baum in the driver's seat, Moore in the passenger seat, and Moore's young daughter and the girl's mother in the back seat.
Reese asked Baum for her driver's license and proof of registration and insurance. Baum indicated she did not have her license or an insurance card with her, and that the vehicle did not belong to her. She did, however, give Reese the vehicle's registration card. The car was not registered in either Baum's or Moore's names. Reese told her to step out of the car and wait in front of his patrol car.
While Baum, a pregnant young mother of two, waited for Reese, the officer asked Moore who owned the car. Moore replied that the car belonged to a friend of his father, but he did not know the friend's name. When questioned regarding how he got the car, where he was going, where he had been, and what his business was there, Moore told Reese that the group had taken the bus from Pennsylvania to New York City and had picked up the Toyota there. According to Moore, they had traveled to New York to pick up his daughter.
Reese then walked back toward his patrol car to speak with Baum who was standing at the car's front bumper with her arms crossed, hugging her torso, as if cold. When he asked her why she did not have any identification, she replied that she had left it at home because she left in a hurry that day. In response to Reese's further questions regarding the group's activities that day, Baum reported, contrary to Moore's story, that Moore and the other occupants had picked her up in the car in Pennsylvania and they had all driven to New York to pick up "their daughter's stuff." Baum stated that she had to return home soon because she promised to baby-sit for her sister.
Baum began to shiver, and Reese, who was wearing a short sleeve uniform shirt, commented that it was not "that cold out." According to the officer, the temperature was approximately 60 degrees. Baum, who was wearing a sweatshirt, replied that she was always cold.
Reese then questioned her further about who owned the car, where she worked and lived and how she knew the other vehicle occupants. She responded that she "was under the impression" Moore owned the car, she worked as a waitress, and had known the others since she discovered she was pregnant three months earlier. Reese then asked if the father of her child was in the car; Baum responded "no," and then repeated her version of the day's events.
Reese called for a second patrol car and then asked Baum if she knew why she had been stopped. She indicated she did not. The officer informed Baum she was stopped because there was no inspection sticker. Baum replied that she thought the car had a pink card from the motor vehicle agency that meant an inspection was not necessary.
Reese then returned to the stopped vehicle, verified that the vehicle was uninspected, and obtained Moore's identification. He then asked Baum why she did not have her license. She replied that she never carries it because she rarely drives. Reese then asked for Baum's name, address, and date of birth so he could check on the status of her driver's license.
The officer testified that "other traffic on the air" precluded his radioing headquarters, and he did not request the check on her license status until four minutes later. In addition, during this period Reese became involved as a supervisor on another stop of a suspicious vehicle that was simultaneously occurring at the other end of town. While waiting for dispatch to respond with the information, the officer continued to explore aspects of Baum's story, by asking her "[i]s that the end of the story . . . your stories don't match . . . [a]re you sure there's nothing else going on?" To which Baum replied "no, that's the truth." Reese expressed disbelief at Baum's story, commenting that it "took an awful lot of time to pick up clothes." A second officer had by this time arrived on the scene and was standing silently near Baum, watching her with his hand on his hip and holstered gun.
While Reese waited for dispatch to verify the status of Baum's driver's license, he continued questioning both Baum and Moore about their personal information and day's travels.
Finally, Reese told Baum, "I'm a little suspicious about your trip. I'd prefer if you just cooperate and tell me what's going on . . . Your stories don't add up . . . . Something's going on here . . . there's more going on than you're telling me."
The following exchange then occurred:
Reese: I'm going to tell you what I think . . . there's something in that car that shouldn't be there. You're not disagreeing with me, so I know you know what I'm talking about. You're driving the car, not in any trouble. Right now I just have you not having a license driving an uninspected car. But, if you want to take this opportunity to tell me what's going on here, why your stories don't match, its not ...