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State ex rel R.M.

July 20, 2009


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FJ-13-1755-07-A.

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




Submitted February 10, 2009

Before Judges Skillman, Graves and Grall.

R.M., a juvenile, was found guilty of an act of delinquency which, if committed by an adult, would constitute receiving stolen property, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7(a). The trial court sentenced the juvenile to a one-year term of probation and imposed the statutorily mandated penalties. On appeal, the juvenile's only argument is that the stop and search that revealed the stolen property, a wallet, violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment and Article I, paragraph 7, of the New Jersey Constitution. We reject this argument and therefore affirm the denial of the juvenile's motion to suppress and the adjudication of an act of delinquency.

The stop and search that revealed the stolen wallet in the juvenile's possession occurred in Hazlet around 2 a.m. on November 10, 2006, which was three hours after an 11 p.m. curfew for juveniles established by municipal ordinance. Patrolman Kevin Geoghan was driving a marked police car when he observed R.M. and another juvenile run across the street in front of a car, which caused the driver to brake. Officer Geoghan stopped his car and approached the two juveniles. Because they appeared to be young, he asked them how old they were, and they responded sixteen. Geoghan asked the juveniles whether they had any identification on them, and they said no.

While Geoghan was questioning the juveniles, he noticed that R.M. was carrying a backpack with an outer mesh pocket. When Geoghan first asked R.M. about the backpack, he said it belonged to him.

Geoghan then noticed that there was a brown wallet visible through the mesh in the outer pocket of the backpack. Since the juveniles had said that they did not have any identification and most persons carry some form of identification in their wallet, Geoghan told the juveniles he needed to examine the wallet to determine whether it contained any identification. At this point, R.M. said the backpack did not belong to him but rather to his brother, and that he did not know who the wallet belonged to. Geoghan told R.M. that he needed to examine the wallet and removed it from the backpack. Geoghan's examination of the contents of the wallet disclosed that it contained the identification of a person named Mazza. When Geoghan questioned the juveniles about this identification, they both stated that they did not know Mazza.

Geoghan next examined the inside of the backpack, which contained a cell phone, sweatshirt and a zip-lock bag containing photographs. R.M. told Geoghan those items all belonged to him.

After discovering Mazza's wallet inside the backpack, Geoghan brought both juveniles to police headquarters "to be processed for the curfew violation, and so that [he] could further investigate the wallet and its contents." Geoghan conducted a computer check at headquarters, which disclosed that Mazza had reported two days before that his wallet had been stolen. Geoghan then arrested R.M. for a violation of the municipal curfew ordinance and receiving stolen property.

The trial court concluded that Officer Geoghan's observations of the juveniles' jaywalking, their admission when he first approached them that they were under the age that subjected them to the 11 p.m. municipal curfew, and R.M.'s conflicting answers regarding ownership of the backpack, gave Officer Geoghan the reasonable and articulable suspicion that the juveniles were engaged in unlawful conduct required for a Terry investigative stop. The court also concluded that the seizure of the wallet in the backpack was valid because the juveniles relinquished any "reasonable expectation of privacy" with respect to the wallet when they both disclaimed any property interest in it. In addition, the court concluded that the juveniles' actions and responses to Officer Geoghan's questions provided probable cause to arrest them for the curfew violation.

On appeal, defendant does not present any argument regarding Officer Geoghan's investigative stop of the juveniles. In any event, we are satisfied, substantially for the reasons stated by the trial court, that the stop was valid. We therefore turn to defendant's arguments regarding the ...

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