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Informant’s Tip in Drug Case Was Enough for Probable Cause To Arrest

Cocaine seized as evidence of possession of cocaine and possession of same with intent to distribute should not have been suppressed just because defendant was arrested before he made it out of his car and onto the property of the house where the deal was supposed to have taken place. State v. Dority, 2013 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1157.

In March of 2010, Phillipsburg Police Department arrested a man named William Joe on drug charges. He then offered to cooperate with police and set up a drug deal with a man known as “Shah.” Joe gave a full physical description of Shah and his car and explained to police that they had done a number of drug transactions together in the past.

Phillipsburg Police had Joe call Shah and set up a deal for crack cocaine. As arranged, Shah arrived at Joe’s house in a car exactly as Joe had described. Initially he drove away, scared off by seeing some cops in the vicinity, but with another phone call from Joe, returned to the house. His car had dark window tints, blocking police from being able to see into the interior.

Instead of waiting for Shah to emerge from his vehicle, police surrounded the car immediately. After finding cocaine in his pants’ pocket, Shah was arrested. The trial judge accepted a motion to suppress the cocaine, finding that the police acted too soon and lacked the requisite probable cause. The court stated, “Defendant’s actions never evolved into probable criminal activity and his arrest was unlawful.”

The Appellate Division reversed the lower court’s decision to suppress the evidence, finding that the facts of the case did support probable cause to arrest Shah. “Information related by informants may constitute a basis for probable cause, provided that a substantial basis for crediting the information is presented.” State v. Jones, 179 N.J. 377, 389.

“’If the nature and details revealed in the tip… imply that the informant’s knowledge of the alleged criminal activity is derived from a trustworthy source,’ then the basis of knowledge is satisfied.” State v. Dority, supra at 8 (quoting State v. Smith, 155 N.J. 83, 94).

The Appellate Court found that Joe’s tip had sufficient detail to constitute a basis of knowledge enough to form probable cause and was strengthened by the fact that the situation occurred almost exactly as Joe had said it would.

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