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State v. Dunbar

Supreme Court of New Jersey

July 10, 2017

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
MARK DUNBAR, Defendant-Respondent.

          Argued April 24, 2017

         On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

          Frank Muroski, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for appellant (Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General, attorney; Frank Muroski, of counsel and on the briefs) .

          Stefan Van Jura, Deputy Public Defender II, argued the cause for respondent (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Stefan Van Jura, of counsel and on the briefs).

         In this appeal, the Court considers the appropriate standard for police officers to conduct a canine sniff for the detection of narcotics. In particular, the Court determines whether police require reasonable suspicion of a drug offense to effect a canine sniff during a motor vehicle stop.

         On May 3, 2013, around 10:20 p.m., Bradley Beach Police Officer Michael Tardio observed a green Ford Focus parked in one of QuickChek's handicapped-reserved spaces. The car's New Jersey license plate did not bear a handicapped designation, nor was there a handicapped designation placard on display in the car's interior.

         Officer Tardio recognized the car as that of defendant Mark Dunbar. On May 2, 2013, the Bradley Beach Police received information from the Manasquan Police Department that a female reported she "was getting her drugs from Mark Dunbar." The anonymous informant also reported that Dunbar used a green Ford Focus, with a New Jersey license plate matching that of the car parked at QuickChek, to distribute narcotics.

         Officer Tardio pulled into the QuickChek parking lot to initiate a motor vehicle stop, exited his patrol car, and approached the suspect vehicle. While Officer Tardio spoke with Dunbar, Officer Major arrived on the scene as backup. Officer Major was accompanied by a narcotics canine. Upon Officer Major's arrival, Officer Tardio instructed Dunbar to exit the vehicle and walk toward Officer Major while he spoke with Lisa Parker. Then, Lisa's sister, Deborah Parker, exited the QuickChek. At that time, Officer Tardio confirmed that all three individuals arrived at the QuickChek together, connecting them to Dunbar's vehicle.

         After identifying all three individuals, Officer Tardio "immediately" contacted dispatch to request a warrant search; the search returned an outstanding warrant for Deborah Parker. Officer Tardio requested the presence of a female officer to arrest Deborah Parker. Officer Tardio testified that it "maybe" took about two minutes for the female officer to arrive. In the meantime, Officer Tardio spoke with Dunbar and advised him of the recent allegations that he was selling drugs. Dunbar denied any wrongdoing. Officer Tardio informed Dunbar that Officer Major and his narcotics canine would conduct a sniff around the vehicle's exterior. The canine positively indicated the presence of narcotics. The record is unclear as to whether the canine sniff took place while the officers were waiting for the arrival of the female officer from Asbury Park or after she arrived.

         Officer Tardio instructed Dunbar that he could consent to a search of his vehicle or have his car impounded pending a search warrant. Dunbar initially refused consent but changed his mind when a tow truck arrived. Officer Tardio read Dunbar his rights. With Dunbar's permission, the officers searched the vehicle's trunk, from which they recovered Xanax, oxycodone, and heroin. The officers arrested Dunbar and Deborah Parker. A Monmouth County grand jury indicted Dunbar for three counts of third-degree possession of controlled dangerous substances.

         Prior to trial, Dunbar moved to suppress the drugs. The court granted Dunbar's motion, holding that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion that Dunbar was engaged in a drug transaction in his vehicle in the QuickChek parking lot at that time and therefore could not perform a canine sniff. Furthermore, the court held that, based on the number of officers and the threat of towing his vehicle, Dunbar did not voluntarily provide consent.

         Ten days later, the State moved for reconsideration in light of the then-recent United States Supreme Court decision, Rodriguez v. United States. 575 U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 1609 (2015). The trial court denied the motion. The court explained, "[t]he State has not met its burden of proof that the time for tasks necessitated by [Dunbar's] traffic violation included the time of the dog sniff." The court entered an order denying reconsideration.

         Prior to trial, the Appellate Division affirmed the suppression of the drugs. Citing prior Appellate Division cases, the court posited that New Jersey's standard for canine sniffs is reasonable suspicion. The court concluded that the officers did not harbor reasonable suspicion that Dunbar or the Parker sisters were engaged in drug activity and found that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to effectuate the canine sniff. The panel also affirmed the trial court's holding on consent.

         The Court granted the State's motion for leave to appeal. 226 N.J. 543 (2016).

         HELD: The Court adopts the federal standard barring unnecessary delays for the purpose of canine sniffs. Officers do not need reasonable suspicion of a drug offense provided that the canine sniff does not prolong the stop beyond the time required to complete the stop's mission.

         1. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution equally guarantee "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." A lawful roadside stop by a police officer constitutes a seizure under both Constitutions. To justify such a seizure, a police officer must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the driver of a vehicle, or its occupants, is committing a motor-vehicle violation or a criminal or disorderly persons offense. During an otherwise lawful traffic stop, a police officer may inquire into matters unrelated to the justification for the traffic stop. An officer's ability to pursue incidental inquiries, however, is not without limitations. Specifically, the incidental checks may not be performed "in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual." Rodriguez, supra, 135 S.Ct. at 1615. (pp. 13-16)

         2. In United States v. Place, the United States Supreme Court held that a canine sniff does not constitute a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. 462 U.S. 696, 706-07 (1983). The Court reasoned that a canine sniff is so limited in the manner of investigation and in the noncontraband items it reveals that it is "much less intrusive than a typical search." Id. at 707. In Illinois v. Caballes. 543 UJL 405, 408 (2005), the Court held that "a dog sniff would not change the character of a traffic stop that is lawful at its inception and otherwise executed in a reasonable manner, unless the dog sniff itself infringed [upon the defendant's] constitutionally protected interest in privacy." In Rodriguez, supra, the Court reaffirmed its holding that, although an officer "may conduct certain unrelated checks during an otherwise lawful traffic stop, " the officer "may not do so in a way that prolongs the stop, absent the reasonable suspicion ordinarily demanded to justify detaining an individual." 135 S.Ct. at 1615. The federal standard does not require particularized reasonable suspicion to conduct a canine sniff during the course of a routine traffic stop. But if the canine sniff extends the traffic stop beyond the time reasonably required to complete the traffic stop's purpose, the sniff is unlawful absent independent reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, (pp. 16-20)

         3. The Appellate Division has echoed some of the federal approach regarding canine sniffs but has departed from the federal standard by requiring reasonable and articulable suspicion to justify canine sniffs, (pp. 20-22)

         4. The Court now adopts the federal standard for canine sniffs. Accordingly, an officer does not need reasonable suspicion independent from the justification for a traffic stop in order to conduct a canine sniff but may not conduct a canine sniff in a manner that prolongs a traffic stop beyond the time required to complete the stop's mission, unless he possesses reasonable and articulable suspicion to do so. In other words, in the absence of such suspicion, an officer may not add time to the stop. (pp. 23-25)

         5. Applying this legal standard to Dunbar's appeal, two issues arise: whether the canine sniff prolonged Officer Tardio's traffic stop beyond the time reasonably required to address Dunbar's parking infraction, and, if so, whether this delay was justified by independent reasonable suspicion that Dunbar possessed drugs at that time. The record does not provide sufficient information. The Court expresses no opinion as to whether the canine sniff prolonged the traffic stop or whether the totality of the circumstances generated reasonable suspicion that Dunbar possessed drugs at the time of the stop, leaving those determinations to the trial court on remand, (pp. 26-27)

         The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED and the matter is REMANDED for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

          CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LaVECCHIA, ALBIN, PATTERSON, SOLOMON, and TIMPONE join in JUSTICE FERNANDEZ-VINA's opinion.

          FERNANDEZ-VINA, JUSTICE.

         In this appeal, we consider the appropriate standard for police officers to conduct a canine sniff for the detection of narcotics. In particular, we are called upon to determine whether police require reasonable suspicion of a drug offense to effect a canine sniff during a motor vehicle stop. We conclude that officers do not need such reasonable suspicion provided that the canine sniff does not prolong the stop beyond the time required to complete the stop's mission. We adopt the federal standard barring unnecessary delays for the purpose of canine sniffs.

         The Bradley Beach Police Department knew defendant Mark Dunbar through several previous incidents and had recently received two tips that he was selling drugs. In 2013, a police officer initiated a motor vehicle stop of Dunbar and two passengers for parking in a handicapped parking space.

         Shortly thereafter, another officer arrived with a canine trained to detect the presence of narcotics. The police instructed Dunbar to exit his vehicle. The first officer then checked if Dunbar and his two passengers had any outstanding warrants. Because one of the female passengers had an outstanding warrant, the police called a female officer from a nearby municipality to arrest her.

         At some point, either while waiting for the female officer's arrival or shortly after her arrival, the second officer walked his canine around Dunbar's car. The canine signaled the presence of drugs. Faced with this information, Dunbar consented to a search of his car, which revealed narcotics. The State charged him with drug possession.

         Dunbar moved to suppress the drugs recovered from his car. The trial court granted Dunbar's suppression motion, concluding that the police did not have the requisite reasonable suspicion that Dunbar was engaged in drug activity to conduct the canine sniff around Dunbar's car. The State filed a motion to reconsider based on the then-recent United States Supreme Court decision, Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S., 135 S.Ct. 1609, 191 L.Ed.2d 492 (2015), which held that officers do not need reasonable suspicion to conduct a canine sniff but that they cannot delay a traffic stop to perform such a sniff. The court denied the State's motion.

         The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that police officers need reasonable suspicion independent of the justifications for a traffic stop to perform a canine sniff. Despite recognizing that the timeline was unclear, the appellate panel also held that the canine sniff did not unreasonably prolong the traffic stop.

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we reverse the grant of Dunbar's motion to suppress and remand for further factfinding. Specifically, we direct the trial court to assess whether the canine sniff prolonged the traffic stop ...


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