Like Pennsylvania, the New Jersey Constitution gives greater protection against unreasonable searches and seizures than does the Fourth Amendment

Alfonso Gambone
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A Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer representing accused persons throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

 Our law firm represents a number of individuals charged with crimes in South Jersey, especially those involving the illegal possession of a weapon, gun, firearm, or illegal drugs and controlled substances. Many of these cases begin after police stop a suspect on the street in Camden, Burlington, Gloucester, or Cumberland County. Like Pennsylvania, the New Jersey Constitution gives greater protection against unreasonable searches and seizures than does the Fourth Amendment to the Unites States Constitution, but the state constitution still permits a stop and frisk, provided that the initial investigatory stop is lawful.

Police Officer Safety

Keep in mind that even if the police officer doesn’t believe that the suspect is engaged or about to be engaged in some criminal activity, the officer has the right to frisk a suspect for weapons if the officer has a specific or an objective credible reason to believe the suspect is armed. See New Jersey Constitution Article 1, Paragraph 7. A police officer or state trooper in New Jersey is not simply permitted to stop someone because the individual is in a “high crime area” but a person’s presence in such an area can be used in addition to other factors to elevate the police officer’s suspicion that the suspect is armed. Other factors that an officer can use is his knowledge of a suspect’s criminal history and if the person’s activity is entirely inconsistent with the time of day (standing by a storefront after hours). A court will determine the reasonableness of a frisk based on a combination of several factors including the officer’s experience and the circumstances surrounding the stop.


What Factors Make A Stop and Frisk Legal in New Jersey!

Keep in mind that a frisk is not illegal simply because the officer based part of his suspicion on the suspect’s prior criminal history which he or she may be familiar with due to prior encounters. Courts will consider other factors, like whether the suspect kept his hands in his pockets, appeared nervous, failed to make eye contact, or perhaps gave a weak excuse to explain unusual conduct. The point is there is no exact mathematical formula to determine what gives rise to a reasonable belief that a suspect is a potential threat to a police officer to justify a protective search for weapons. The court must balance police intrusion against New Jersey’s need for effective law enforcement safety. Because there is no exact formula, a strong criminal defense lawyer can point out the weaknesses in the officer’s basis for the stop and frisk during a motion to suppress evidence, which is the procedural tool to fight an illegal search and seizure.


What To Do If You’re Charged With an Illegal Gun or Drugs

If you are charged with an illegal gun or drug, it’s important to keep in mind that keeping this evidence out of court is critical to your success. If the evidence is found to be admissible (allowed), if will be difficult, if not impossible, for you to be found not guilty and the state will more than likely be able to establish actual possession of contraband. Actual and constructive possession are 2 concepts that I have written about in prior blog posts, in my books and videos. Actual possession means that the contraband is found on one’s person and constructive means that it is found in the area of immediate control of the suspect.


Motion To Suppress—New Jersey

During the motion to suppress, your criminal defense attorney should not only attack the basis for the frisk (search) but also the police officer’s initial decision to stop you. Remember that the stop itself must be based on either reasonable suspicion or probable cause that a crime is occurring or has occurred. Remember that reasonable suspicion is a lower form of probable cause. Without reasonable suspicion the police stop is illegal and all evidence found thereafter is inadmissible (can’t be used in court against a person).

In closing, the stop does not permit the police officer to search and always remember the frisk is due to safety and not the belief that the individual is armed and presents a threat to the officer.

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