October 24, 2017
certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
M. Quigley, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for
appellant (Christopher S. Porrino, Attorney General,
attorney; Sara M. Quigley, of counsel and on the briefs).
Elizabeth C. Jarit, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued
the cause for respondent (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender,
attorney; Elizabeth C. Jarit, of counsel and on the briefs).
Machek Velez argued the cause for amicus curiae American
Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation (Edward L.
Barocas, Legal Director, attorney; Alexi Machek Velez,
Alexander R. Shalom, Edward L. Barocas, and Jeanne M.
LoCicero on the brief).
J., writing for the Court.
Court considers the legality of the police's search and
seizure of the contents of defendant Lori Hummel's
handbag while she was detained at the Gloucester County
December 5, 2010, Thomas Carbin was stabbed to death. On
December 7, 2010, Investigator Gary Krohn advised defendant
that he was going to bring her to the police station for two
outstanding traffic bench warrants; he drove her to the
Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office. There, he
introduced defendant to Detective Bryn Wilden and Sergeant
James Ballenger. Detective Wilden then escorted defendant
into an interrogation room.
placed her purse on the table in front of her. Around 1:56 p
m, Detective Wilden and Sergeant Ballenger entered
defendant's interrogation room to begin questioning her.
The detectives took seats at the table without removing
defendant's purse or frisking her. About a minute into
questioning, defendant reached into and rummaged through her
purse to retrieve her cell phone. She checked the time and
advised the detectives that she had to pick up her daughter
by 3:20 p m. The detectives did not comment on her time
constraint. Detective Wilden then asked defendant to raise
her right hand and swore her in. The detectives began asking
defendant substantive questions without advising her of her
rights under Miranda v. Arizona. 384 U.S. 436
(1966). In response to questions from the detectives about
her cell phone, defendant began to look through her purse for
a receipt showing her recent cell phone purchase. The
detectives kept questioning defendant about her relationship
with the victim.
detectives left defendant alone in the room. She put her
belongings back into her purse and stepped outside, asking if
she could leave to pick up her daughter. The detectives did
not permit her to leave. She then asked, "Am I
arrested?" Detective Wilden responded that
"technically" she had traffic warrants and that
they still had questions for her. Defendant stated that she
thought she wanted to get a lawyer. After briefly asking
questions about defendant's decision to retain a lawyer,
the detectives ceased talking to defendant and left the room.
after, Detective Wilden cuffed defendant's right ankle to
a bar on the floor and told defendant that she was being
detained and that she had an outstanding warrant. Defendant
asked several times whether she could make a phone call to
her lawyer. Detective Wilden took defendant's purse from
the table, and defendant stated that she did not like that he
had her pocketbook. Sergeant Ballenger responded that
defendant was "in custody." As Detective Wilden
began walking out, defendant said, "Hopefully that $500
ain't missing out of there."
response to defendant's comment, the detectives began
taking everything out of her purse. They asked if she would
rather search the purse herself, but defendant declined.
Detective Wilden found two electronic benefits transfer (EBT)
cards issued through New Jersey's "Families
First" supplemental income program. He asked defendant
if the cards were hers. She responded that everything in the
pocketbook was hers. Detective Wilden read her the name of
another individual on one of the cards. Defendant disavowed
that she knew that individual or how the card wound up in her
purse. Detective Wilden then put all the items back into the
purse and left the room with it. The detectives left
defendant shackled for over two hours. At one point she asked
why she could not get a lawyer, and the detectives failed to
allow her to call one. Around 5:48 p.m., the detectives
unsecured defendant's ankle and escorted her out of the
room to be released. Police arrested defendant three days
moved to suppress her statements to police and the physical
evidence obtained during her interrogation. The trial court
granted defendant's motion to suppress her statements to
police but denied her motion to suppress physical evidence.
Defendant appealed from the trial court's denial of her
motion to suppress physical evidence. The Appellate Division
panel found that the Families First EBT card should have been
suppressed because the detectives' inventory search
developed into a warrantless investigatory search. The panel
ruled that defendant could apply within thirty days to
withdraw her guilty plea and to have her conviction vacated
and her case listed for trial. The Court denied
defendant's petition for certification, 229 N.J. 3
(2017), but granted the State's cross-petition for
certification, 229 N.J. 17 (2017).
The Court finds no valid inventory search and therefore
affirms the Appellate Division's determination that the
evidence seized during the search should be suppressed.
narrow exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement
is the inventory search. An inventory search is not an
independent legal concept but rather an incidental
administrative step following arrest and preceding
incarceration. Police may search an arrestee without a
warrant and inventory the property in the arrestee's
possession before he or she is jailed. Such searches
"serve a three-fold purpose: protection of the
inventoried property while in police custody, shielding the
police and storage bailees from false property claims, and
safeguarding the police from potential danger."
State v. Mangold, 82 N.J. 575, 581-82 (1980). (pp.
inventory search must be reasonable under the circumstances
to pass constitutional muster. In Mangold, the Court
explained that the propriety of an inventory search involves
a two-step inquiry: (1) whether the impoundment of the
property is justified; and (2) whether the inventory
procedure was legal. Id. at 583. For there to be a
lawful inventory search, there must be a lawful impoundment.
Courts need only analyze the reasonableness of the inventory
search if the impoundment is justified. Several factors are
relevant to the reasonableness inquiry. They include
"the scope of the search, the procedure used, and the
availability of less intrusive alternatives."
Id. at 584. (pp. 13-14)
Under the first Mangold inquiry, the detectives'
impoundment of defendant's purse was not justified. The
detectives had not arrested defendant before seeking to
impound her purse. Defendant kept her purse open and within
her reach for the entire interrogation. She rummaged through
her bag several times in front of the detectives. The
detectives did not frisk defendant at any point during her
detention. They sought to remove her bag from the
interrogation room only after she asked for an attorney.
Crucially, they asked defendant if she would rather examine
the contents of her purse herself. It is clear that had valid
safety concerns existed at the time they sought to impound
her bag, the officers would not have given defendant the
option to search her own purse, (pp. 14-15)
if the initial impoundment was justified under the first
Mangold inquiry, the search would fail under the
balancing test required by the second. The detectives
initiated the search to find the $500 defendant claimed her
purse contained. The scope of the search should have been
limited to that $500. The State concedes that the
departmental policy for inventory searches is unknown. There
is no way then to determine whether the detectives'
search was executed according to any purported policy or
practice. Finally, the detectives had reasonable, less
intrusive alternatives available to protect them against
false theft claims that would have simultaneously respected
defendant's constitutionally protected privacy rights.
The inventory search exception to the Fourth Amendment
warrant requirement does not apply, and the detectives'
search was unconstitutional, (pp. 15-18)
State concedes that the detectives did not conduct a
"traditional" inventory search. The record reveals
that nearly every aspect of the purported inventory search
was not "traditional." They did not formally arrest
her that day, but rather let her leave and arrested her three
days later. The Court remands to permit defendant to raise
issues she has preserved before a PCR court, or withdraw her
guilty plea and continue before the trial court, (pp. 18-19)
judgment of the Appellate Division is
AFFIRMED and the matter is
REMANDED for further proceedings consistent
with this opinion.
LaVECCHIA, CONCURRING IN PART AND DISSENTING IN
PART, concurs in the judgment but expresses the view
that the Court should have re-considered the denial of
defendant's petition for certification. By not hearing
now defendant's multi-faceted argument that improper
police procedures rendered all of her statements and all
evidence obtained during her custodial interrogation fruits
of the poisonous tree, the Court missed addressing the
prerequisite question to an inventory-search analysis,
according to Justice LaVecchia.
JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES PATTERSON, FERNANDEZ-VINA, and
SOLOMON join in JUSTICE TIMPONE's opinion. JUSTICE
LaVECCHIA filed a separate, partially concurring and
partially dissenting opinion, in which JUSTICE ALBIN joins.
case is before us on the narrow issue of the legality of the
police's search and seizure of the contents of defendant
Lori Hummel's handbag while she was detained at the
Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office. We find no valid
inventory search. We therefore affirm the Appellate
Division's determination that the evidence seized during
the search should be suppressed. We remand to permit the
defendant to withdraw her guilty plea and continue at the
trial court level or, in the alternative, to proceed before a
PCR court on other issues she has preserved.
the following ...