On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Monmouth County, Docket No. FJ-13-2617-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 25, 2012
Before Judges Lihotz and Waugh.
D.B., to whom we refer by the pseudonym Dennis, appeals from the order of the Family Part adjudicating him delinquent, following a guilty plea, for possession of marijuana, conduct that would have been a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(4) if committed by an adult. We reverse.
We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal, including testimony developed at a hearing on Dennis's motion to suppress the evidence.
In the afternoon of March 13, 2009, Police Officer Darnell Esdaile received a report that "a tall, thin, black male wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and jeans" had just robbed a bank located on Main Street in Freehold Borough. Esdaile went to the bank and ascertained that the suspect had fled. A sergeant at the scene directed Esdaile to look for the suspect in the surrounding areas, including a nearby bus station.
Approximately ten minutes later, Esdaile observed a black male, who fit the general description of the suspect, in the bus station parking lot. The man was walking "shoulder-to-shoulder" with a younger black male, with whom he was speaking. The younger male was later identified as Dennis, then a minor. Dennis is the older man's nephew.
Esdaile verified the description of the suspect and requested backup. Esdaile then stopped the man and Dennis, and ordered them to place their hands on his patrol car until the backup arrived. Esdaile had not been advised that the suspect had an accomplice, although he testified that robbers "sometimes" work with them. There was no specific testimony that Esdaile had been informed that the suspect was armed or that he was concerned for his own safety. In response to questions by the prosecutor, however, he testified that people who commit robberies "sometimes" carry concealed weapons and "sometimes" give their weapons to others to hide.*fn1
Several police officers arrived at the scene, including Officer Ronnie Steppat. While Esdaile spoke with the older man and searched him for weapons, Steppat addressed Dennis. Steppat testified that, in his experience, robbers "sometimes" carry a concealed weapon, "sometimes" work with accomplices, and "sometimes" give a weapon to someone else to hide.*fn2
Steppat testified that he told Dennis to "[j]ust keep your hands on the car." He continued: "I'll tell you in a second why you were stopped. . . . [B]ut right now I'm gonna check you for weapons. Do you have anything that's gonna hurt me, stab me, or stick me?" Dennis responded that he had "bags of bud," a street term for marijuana, in his pants pocket.
After obtaining Dennis's "permission," Steppat removed five baggies of marijuana from his pocket. Steppat then asked: "[D]o you have anything else . . . on you now that I need to know about?" Dennis responded, ...