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State v. Shaw

Supreme Court of New Jersey

May 13, 2019

State of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent/ Cross-Appellant,
v.
Nathan N. Shaw, a/k/a Dion Shaw, a/k/a Leroy Anderson, Defendant-Appellant/ Cross-Respondent. State of New Jersey, Plaintiff,
v.
Keon L. Bolden, Defendant.

          Argued January 28, 2019

          On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division.

          Margaret McLane, Assistant Deputy Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant/cross-respondent (Joseph E. Krakora, Public Defender, attorney; Margaret McLane, of counsel and on the briefs).

          Frank Muroski, Deputy Attorney General, argued the cause for respondent/cross-appellant (Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General, attorney; Frank Muroski and Jenny M. Hsu, Deputy Attorney General, of counsel and on the briefs).

          Alexander Shalom argued the cause for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation and Rutgers Constitutional Rights Clinic Center for Law and Justice, attorneys; Alexander Shalom, Edward L. Barocas and Jeanne M. LoCicero, of counsel and on the briefs, and Ronald K. Chen on the briefs).

          TIMPONE, J., writing for the Court.

         In this case, the Court considers whether evidence found in a motel room and vehicle and defendant Nathan Shaw's statement to police should have been suppressed.

         Jasmine Hanson was staying at the Crystal Inn motel in Neptune City. She called the front desk to complain she had been bitten by bed bugs. The motel owner inspected Hanson's room using his pass key. He saw a plastic bag containing what he suspected were narcotics and called the police. Officer Jason Rademacher had the motel owner lead him to Hanson's room where, again using his pass key, the motel owner unlocked the door for the officer to enter. Inside, Rademacher saw what appeared to be drugs, as well as a measuring cup and scale. A criminal history check on Hanson revealed an outstanding traffic warrant and a recently issued traffic summons on a 2012 black Chevrolet Tahoe, and its plate number.

         Rademacher transported the evidence to the station and returned in an unmarked vehicle to wait for Hanson's arrival. Shortly thereafter, the black Tahoe pulled into a parking space. The front passenger was Keon Bolden, Hanson was in the driver's seat, and in the back seat were Shakera Dickerson and Shaw. Rademacher arrested Hanson. The officer asked to search the Tahoe; Hanson refused consent. A drug-detection canine was brought to perform an exterior sniff of the vehicle. The officers conducted warrant checks on the remaining passengers. Only Dickerson's came back positive. She was arrested and placed in a second patrol car. Shaw and Bolden were patted down and seated in separate patrol cars, uncuffed. Hanson again refused to consent to a search of the vehicle.

         The handler led the canine to the Tahoe. Shaw told an officer that he had a bag of marijuana in the car, and the canine alerted to the presence of narcotics. Shaw was arrested. An officer told Hanson that Shaw admitted he had marijuana in the vehicle and, at that point, she consented to the vehicle search. She signed a consent-to-search form, but did not initial the line attesting that she gave her consent free of coercion.

         The officers found drugs in the car and within a tote bag on the back seat of the car. All four passengers were charged with multiple counts of possession and possession with intent to distribute the drugs found in both the motel room and the tote bag.

         All defendants moved to suppress the drug evidence seized from the motel room and the Tahoe. The motion court denied their suppression motion. Shaw pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree possession of CDS with intent to distribute.

         The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of Shaw's motion to suppress the contents of the tote bag, finding he lacked standing to challenge its search, but reversed the denial of his motion to suppress his statement made to police while in their custody. In response to an argument by a co-defendant, the panel also found that the warrantless search of the motel room was illegal.

         The Court granted Shaw's petition for certification, 228 N.J. 506 (2017), and the State's cross-petition, 228 N.J. 518 (2017). Following oral argument on November 8, 2017, the Court ordered this case remanded to the Law Division for the court "to address the application of the inevitable discovery doctrine and the independent source doctrine to the admissibility of the evidence seized in the motor vehicle."

         On remand, the parties presented no further testimony. Relying on the record as it had been developed at the suppression hearing, the court determined the inevitable discovery and the independent source doctrines both applied and that the evidence was admissible.

         HELD: Defendant's confession and the drug evidence must be suppressed.

         1. Under the third-party intervention doctrine, a person's reasonable expectation of privacy is not violated by the actions or search of a private actor. See State v. Wright, 221 N.J. 456, 459 (2015). Fourth Amendment protections apply only to governmental action, and a subsequent search by law enforcement -- so long as it does not exceed the scope of the private search --may not require a warrant if it does not infringe any constitutionally protected privacy interest that had not already been frustrated as a result of the private conduct. The doctrine traditionally applied to searches of objects either physically conveyed or reported to the police. See id. at 459, 468-69. In Wright, the Court held that the doctrine could not be applied to searches of private dwellings -- including rented apartments -- under our State Constitution. Id. at 476. Although Wright discussed apartments, its reasoning applies with equal force to motel rooms. Where a motel owner or employee finds contraband in a guest's room, "the police can use that information to obtain a search warrant and then conduct a search." Id. at 478-79. "In the time it takes to get the warrant, police officers can secure the [motel room] from the outside, for a reasonable period of time, if reasonably necessary to avoid any tampering with or destruction of evidence." Id. at 478. Here, the motel search was unconstitutional and the illegal fruits of that search must be suppressed. (pp. 17-24)

         2. Police must have particularized suspicion in order to conduct an investigatory stop, and the duration of an investigative stop must be limited in time and scope to the purpose that justified the stop in the first place. If the officer's conduct is more intrusive than necessary, the investigative stop turns into a de facto arrest. Once it was determined that Shaw was unarmed and had no outstanding warrants, there was no particularized suspicion that Shaw was engaged in criminal activity that would justify Shaw's further detention. Under the circumstances here, isolating Shaw in the back of a patrol car despite a negative warrant check was a de facto and an unlawful arrest. (pp. 24-27)

         3. It was during that period of unlawful detention that Shaw stated there was marijuana in the bag. To decide whether to suppress a statement obtained after an unlawful arrest, courts consider three factors: the temporal proximity of the arrest and the confession, the presence of intervening circumstances, and, particularly, the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct. Here, Shaw's confession was a product of his unlawful de facto arrest and must be suppressed. Shaw's confession occurred during his unlawful detention, and the Court is not persuaded that the presence of the drug-detection canine purged the taint of the illegal arrest. Shaw was never informed of his right to remain silent and was held without individualized suspicion. Although his confession was not made in response to an interrogation, the Court is not convinced it was a product of his own free will. (pp. 27-30)

         4. The Court next addresses Shaw's standing to challenge the search of the tote bag. Whenever a defendant is charged with committing a possessory drug offense -- as in this case -- standing is automatic, unless the State can show that the property was abandoned or the accused was a trespasser. The tote bag was found in the back seat of a car that had four occupants. They were ordered out of the car. The State simply has not established that the bag was abandoned property. The trespasser exception has even less relevancy. The record is devoid of any evidence that Shaw put the drugs in the tote bag without Dickerson's knowledge. Shaw had automatic standing to challenge the search of the bag. (pp. 30-33)

         5. The Court thus considers whether the search fell within the consent-search exception to the warrant requirement. An individual's voluntary consent to search a constitutionally protected area eliminates the need for law enforcement to obtain a warrant. When Hanson consented to the search, she had already been arrested and handcuffed. The officers asked her multiple times for consent to search the vehicle. She relented only after an officer informed her of Shaw's unlawfully obtained confession. The warrantless search of the Tahoe was unconstitutional and the evidence seized through that search is therefore subject to suppression. Nor can the evidence come in through Shaw's confession. (pp. 34-36)

         6. The State failed to make the necessary showing under either inevitable discovery or the independent source exceptions to the exclusionary rule. Accordingly, the unconstitutionally obtained evidence remains suppressed. (pp. 36-39)

         The judgment of the Appellate Division is affirmed in part and reversed in part and the matter is remanded to the trial court.

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

          OPINION

          TIMPONE JUSTICE

         This appeal concerns a cascade of missteps by police, resulting in several constitutional violations. The case begins with the warrantless search of a motel room, followed by the extended detention of automobile passengers without reasonable suspicion. One defendant then involuntarily consents to a search of an automobile, culminating in the warrantless search of a tote bag found in the car in which another defendant was a passenger. The State raises a number of well-expressed arguments in support of the admissibility of the evidence obtained from the searches. Nevertheless, the record before us compels the suppression of all evidence seized.

         To provide an overview, we will begin our analysis by considering the application of the third-party intervention doctrine -- a recognition that law enforcement need not obtain a warrant to "reexamine property that has been searched by a private actor and presented to law enforcement" under certain circumstances, State v. Wright, 221 N.J. 456, 479 (2015) -- to the warrantless search of a motel room. Next, we examine whether a confession spontaneously made during an extended detention not predicated on individualized reasonable suspicion must be suppressed under the circumstances. Thereafter, we review the events surrounding the search of a tote bag and assess whether a passenger had standing to challenge the search of a tote bag that ultimately proved to belong to another passenger. We consider whether the principles of the trespasser and abandoned property exceptions to automatic standing apply under these circumstances, and whether the driver's consent to the vehicle search justified the search of the tote bag. Lastly, we address the applicability of the inevitable discovery doctrine and independent source rule to this case.

         For the reasons stated below, we hold that the police's warrantless search of the motel room ran afoul of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 7 of the New Jersey Constitution. We further find the third-party intervention doctrine does not apply to motel rooms and that the State's warrantless entry into the room was unlawful. We also find the defendant's extended detention constituted a de facto arrest and that the State failed to show his confession was not a by-product of that arrest. Concerning the tote bag, we find defendant had automatic standing, the trespass and abandoned property exceptions do not apply, and the State failed to show the voluntariness of the driver's consent. Finally, we will not apply the inevitable discovery or independent source exceptions to the exclusionary rule because on remand the State chose not to develop the record on those issues.

         With that, we find defendant's confession and the drug evidence must be suppressed.

         I.

         A.

         The facts are culled from the testimony elicited at the suppression hearing. Florida resident Jasmine Hanson was staying at the Crystal Inn motel in Neptune City, New Jersey. She called the front desk to complain she had been bitten by bed bugs and demanded a full refund. She was referred to the motel's owner. Later that afternoon, the motel owner inspected Hanson's room. When no one answered his knocks, he entered her room using his pass key. In search of bed bugs, the motel owner pulled a bed comforter down, revealing a plastic bag containing what he suspected were narcotics. The motel owner called the police and reported his suspicion.

         Upon his arrival, Officer Jason Rademacher had the motel owner lead him to Hanson's room where, again using his pass key, the motel owner unlocked the door for the officer to enter. Inside, Rademacher saw a clear plastic bag containing what appeared to him to be two other clear plastic bags of crack cocaine and several small glassine bags of heroin. Nearby, the officer saw a jar of what he suspected was synthetic marijuana on the nightstand and a glass measuring cup containing a spoon and a white, rock-like substance in a drawer. Next to the measuring cup was a black scale dusted with a white powder.

         Rademacher contacted his supervisor, who sent Sergeant William Kirchner to the motel as backup. The officer requested a criminal history check on Hanson. It revealed an outstanding traffic warrant and a recently issued traffic summons on a 2012 black Chevrolet Tahoe, and its plate number. Rademacher collected all the drug evidence and photographed Hanson's motel room.

         Rademacher transported the evidence to the station and returned in an unmarked vehicle to wait for Hanson's arrival. Shortly thereafter, the black Tahoe pulled into a parking space. The front passenger, Keon Bolden, immediately exited the vehicle. Rademacher drew his weapon and, keeping it at his side, ordered Bolden back into the Tahoe. Hanson was in the driver's seat. In the back seat were Shakera Dickerson and Nathan Shaw. Rademacher stood by the driver's door awaiting backup.

         At least three units arrived on the scene. Hanson produced her license and the Tahoe's rental agreement. Rademacher informed Hanson she had an active warrant and arrested her. The police patted Hanson down, handcuffed her, and placed her in the back of a patrol car. The officer asked to search the Tahoe; Hanson refused consent. Rademacher and Kirchner explained that a drug-detection canine would be brought to perform an exterior sniff of the vehicle. Hanson did not change her mind. Rademacher testified that they waited until all of the occupants of the Tahoe were removed from the vehicle before they requested the canine. The canine's handler testified that when he arrived there were still occupants in the vehicle, and he had to wait for them to be removed before he could conduct the exterior sniff. The trial court adopted the handler's narrative, while the Appellate Division endorsed the officer's version of events.

         The officers conducted warrant checks on the remaining passengers. Only Dickerson's warrant check came back positive. She was arrested and placed in a second patrol car. Shaw and Bolden were patted down and each seated in separate patrol cars, uncuffed.

         The canine's handler attempted to explain the sniff procedure to Hanson; Hanson refused to speak to him and again refused to consent to a search of the vehicle. The handler led the canine to the Tahoe. During the sniff, Shaw told an officer that he had a bag of marijuana in the car. The canine alerted to the presence of narcotics. Shaw was arrested. An officer told Hanson that Shaw admitted he had marijuana in the vehicle and, at that point, she consented to the vehicle search. She signed a consent-to-search form, but did not initial the line attesting that she gave her consent free of coercion.

         Rademacher searched the car, immediately finding the brown bag containing marijuana. Meanwhile, other officers found a bag of synthetic marijuana and a box of plastic bags in the center console. On the backseat, in between where Dickerson and Shaw were sitting, Rademacher found a green and white tote bag. From inside the tote bag he recovered 113 stamped glassine bags of heroin, a plastic bag containing suspected crack cocaine, and a purse in which he found a plastic bag of what appeared to be marijuana. Twenty-four of the glassine bags of heroin were stamped in red ink with the phrase "Limit 50." That mark resembled the stamp found on the glassine bags of heroin in Hanson's motel room.

         Laboratory testing confirmed the suspected drugs were marijuana, crack cocaine, and heroin. All four passengers were charged with multiple counts of possession and possession with intent to distribute the drugs found in both the motel room and the tote bag.

         B.

         All defendants moved before the Superior Court, Law Division to suppress the drug evidence seized from the motel room and the Tahoe.

         After finding that the charged defendants had automatic standing to challenge the search, the motion court denied their suppression motion with the following findings:

(1) The motel owner's initial entry into Hanson's motel room did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the Fourth Amendment affords individuals protection only from unreasonable state action --not from private individuals like the motel owner. The court found the motel owner "surrendered that evidence to the officer by ...

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