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Police Investigative Detentions

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In State v. Rosario, the New Jersey Supreme Court analyzed the differences between police conducted field inquiries and investigative detentions. Defendant in this case was charged with third-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance after being detained and questioned by a police officer while sitting in her car, outside of her apartment building. At the hearing for suppression of evidence obtained during the detention, defense counsel argued that the encounter was an investigative detention unsupported by reasonable and articulable suspicion, and that defendant was in custody subject to Miranda warning. The court denied the motion, finding the detention was supported by reasonable and articulable suspicion, and that defendant voluntarily offered statements and voluntarily gave controlled substances to the officer. Defendant appealed, but the Appellate Division affirmed, holding that an investigative detention began when the officer asked defendant if there was anything in the car that the officer should know about and, by that time, the officer had reasonable and articulable suspicion to support his actions.

On appeal, the Supreme Court noted that field inquiries are voluntary and allow a reasonable person to believe that he or she is free to leave the encounter, whereas an investigative detention is a temporary seizure based on an officer’s reasonable and articulable suspicion that an individual has engaged in, or was about to engage in, criminal activity. The Court looked at the totality-of-the-circumstances and found that defendant was not free to leave at the start of the encounter and, therefore, an investigative detention had begun and the officer did not have reasonable and articulable suspicion to detain defendant.

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