Morris Plains Marijuana Possession Defense Lawyers
Marijuana Case Dismissed Based on Illegal Search
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We recently represented a client who was charged with possession of marijuana (under 50 grams) in Morris Plains Municipal Court, located in Morris Plains, New Jersey. The charge was a disorderly persons offense, meaning that, if convicted, Mr. Tormey’s client could have been sentenced to up to six (6) months in the county jail, been fined up to $1,000.00, had his driver’s license suspended for up six (6) months, and been stuck with a permanent criminal record. The defendant was stopped for careless driving and allegedly consented to the search of his vehicle, which led to the seizure of marijuana and the defendant’s arrest. Upon Mr. Tormey’s review of the discovery package provided by the State, it became clear that this was not a voluntary consent search and, instead, was an unlawful search without a warrant.
First, by way of background, a law enforcement officer must obtain a warrant to search a vehicle or a home in all cases, unless a permitted exception to the warrant requirement exists. For example, “plain view” is a valid exception to the warrant requirement. If an officer approaches your vehicle and there is a bag of cocaine sitting on the passenger seat, in plain view, this is a valid exception to the typical need to obtain a warrant to search your vehicle. This is because the illegal contraband is in plain view and the criminality of the object is readily apparent. As such, the officer is legally permitted to seize said evidence and arrest you for same. Moreover, “consent” is another potential exception to the warrant requirement. If an officer approaches your vehicle and says that he smells marijuana, he is permitted to ask the driver for permission to search the vehicle. This consent must be voluntary and the officer must inform the driver that he or she has the right to refuse consent. Ordinarily, if the driver agrees to a search of his or her vehicle, the officer will provide the driver with a consent to search form, which must be signed before the officer can search the vehicle. Then, if any evidence is seized based on the search, that evidence will have been lawfully obtained without a warrant based on a valid consent search.
In this case, the consent search was not valid. Mr. Tormey was provided with an audio recording of the interaction between the law enforcement officer and the defendant, wherein the defendant refused to consent to a search of his vehicle at least 14 times over a 35-minute period. During that 35-minute period, the arresting officer summoned several other officers to the scene to try to convince Mr. Tormey’s client to consent to a “voluntary” search of his vehicle. Further, the defendant was never Mirandized during this clearly custodial interrogation (he was not free to leave) and the defendant asked for an attorney at least three (3) times during this 35-minute unlawful detention. Finally, after 35 minutes of badgering, the defendant signed a “voluntary” consent-to-search form and the marijuana was found in the vehicle.
Mr. Tormey had a transcript of the audio recording made and, based on this invalid consent search, filed a motion to suppress the illegally seized evidence. There was nothing voluntary about the consent that was eventually given, and, as a result, the consent was not valid and the State did not have a valid exception to the warrant requirement. For this search to be legal, the officer had to obtain a warrant to search the vehicle. He failed to do so. After conferencing the case with the judge and the prosecutor, all parties agreed that this search was not valid. When the State agreed to dismiss the charges against the defendant, it represented a major victory for the Tormey Law Firm and more importantly, for our client.
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