On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Union County, Docket No. FJ-20-645-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted February 7, 2012
Before Judges Messano and Kennedy.
Following the denial of his motion to suppress evidence, juvenile R.J. entered guilty pleas to possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) with intent to distribute within 500 feet of a public housing complex, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7.1; unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(a); and possession of a weapon while committing a drug offense, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4.1.*fn1 R.J. raises the following point on appeal:
THE COURT ERRED IN DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO SUPPRESS BECAUSE THE POLICE ENCOUNTER WITH DEFENDANT CONSTITUTED AN IMPERMISSIBLE INVESTIGATORY STOP AND FRISK THAT WAS WITHOUT A REASONABLE AND ARTICULABLE SUSPICION THAT DEFENDANT WAS ENGAGED IN CRIMINALITY OR WAS ARMED AND DANGEROUS We have considered this argument in light of the record and applicable legal principles. We affirm.
At the evidentiary hearing on the motion to suppress, Plainfield police detective Troy Alston testified that he and detective Black were on patrol in an unmarked vehicle on the evening of October 10, 2009.*fn2 The officers received a radio transmission that a "black" male "with a handgun wearing a black hoodie" was in the area of Liberty Street and "the bridge." Alston described the area as one of "[h]igh narcotic [activity], assaults, attempted murder, shootings," and with "high" gang activity.
The officers then received another radio transmission from Detective Kalina. He had stopped one individual, but advised that he saw another person fitting the description "crossing the open field of . . . the playground area." Alston and Black proceeded to that area and saw a person fitting the description standing next to a car.
After exiting their vehicle and as they approached this person, later identified as R.J., Alston noticed he was "look[ing] around in every direction as if [he was] about to run." R.J. had his hand in his pocket, and Alston observed him make "a furtive movement as if he was adjusting something in his waistband area of his pants." R.J. was "extremely nervous." Alston testified that his past experience included "four" occasions where similar movements revealed that the individual had a weapon in his waistband.
Alston detained R.J. and "pat[ted] him down in the front area where [he] observed [R.J.] reaching." The officer felt "the butt end of a handgun." Alston seized a .22 caliber Browning handgun, placed R.J. under arrest, and later seized from him "a plastic knot of suspected CDS."
Noting the "high crime area" where the encounter occurred, as well as the nature of the information received from the radio transmissions, the judge concluded that the officers had a "reasonable suspicion to believe the individual was armed and dangerous." The pat-down of R.J. was therefore justified, and the "recovery of [the] handgun was proper." The judge then concluded that the CDS was properly seized pursuant to a valid arrest supported by "probable cause." He denied the motion to suppress.
R.J. argues, as he did below, that detectives Alston and Black stopped him "[b]ased only on the vague description" provided by the radio dispatch; and "[w]hat might arguably have been a permissible field enquiry escalated immediately into an impermissible investigatory detention that was without a reasonable and articulable suspicion that [R.J.] was engaged in criminality or was armed and dangerous." The State counters by arguing the totality of circumstances -- the radio transmission, including a description that fit R.J.; the high-crime nature of the area; and the actions ...