State v. Antoine D. Watts, 223 N.J. 503 (2016)

On March 14, 2012, Detective Guillermo Valladares of the Elizabeth Police Department, believing that defendant was selling heroin from apartment number four at 224 Third Street, obtained a warrant to search defendant and his apartment. On that day, Detective Valladares and other officers set up a surveillance camera near defendant’s apartment and waited for defendant to leave his apartment. Shortly before 5:00 p.m., defendant was seen leaving his apartment. He began walking southward on Third Street and entered Seaport Liquor Store on the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Third Street, located one and one-half blocks from his apartment. Upon exiting the liquor store, defendant was detained and patted down for weapons. One detective removed the apartment keys from defendant’s pocket. The police decided not to conduct an “overly intrusive” search for drugs on the corner of Third Street, which was a busy thoroughfare of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. In Detective Valladares’s view, such a search on a public street would have been “undignified.”

 

Detective Valladares and another detective returned to the apartment with the keys and made a peaceable entry. The search of defendant’s apartment uncovered no drugs or related paraphernalia. In the meantime, defendant was handcuffed for officer safety and transported back to his apartment in an unmarked police vehicle. Upon arriving in front of the apartment, defendant exited the vehicle. As he walked toward a marked patrol car under police escort, defendant shook his leg, and from his pants fell four bundles of heroin. Six minutes had elapsed from the moment of defendant’s detention to the discovery of the drugs.

Defendant moved to suppress the drugs, claiming that the police were forbidden from detaining him to conduct a second search of his person after the pat down on the street.

 

The police did not act in an objectively unreasonable manner in violation of the Federal and State Constitutions by conducting an initial pat-down of defendant and detaining defendant for a thorough search in a more controlled, safe, and secure location