State v. Nyema

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a police officer did not have reasonable and articulable suspicion to conduct a car stop. The officer received a radio call about a robbery at a 7-Eleven. The dispatch described the suspects “as two Black males, one with a handgun.” Approximately three-quarters of a mile from the 7-Eleven, using the spotlight mounted to his police vehicle to illuminate the inside of an oncoming car, he observed three Black males. The officer explained that he was struck by the lack of reaction to the spotlight by the occupants of the vehicle and that he “took into consideration the short distance from the scene, as well as the short amount of time from the call as he made the stop.” Before he approached the vehicle, the officer learned that the robbery suspects wore dark or black clothing or jackets. As he approached, the officer saw “some dark jackets” on the unoccupied rear passenger seat and the vehicle’s floor. The dispatcher advised the officer that the car had been reported stolen. The officer placed all three occupants of the car under arrest. First, the officer retrieved the clothing he had observed in the backseat of the vehicle. Then, he and the other officers searched other parts of the vehicle, locating additional clothing in the trunk and a black semi-automatic handgun under the hood. Searches of the men yielded about $600 cash. Approximately $600 was reported stolen from the 7-Eleven. The defendant moved to suppress the physical evidence seized from the stop. The trial court granted the motion regarding the items seized from the trunk and the hood. But the court found that the initial stop was supported by reasonable and articulable suspicion, that the retrieval of clothing from the interior of the vehicle was permitted under the plain view exception to the warrant requirement, and that the money was lawfully seized incident to defendants’ arrest. The defendant pleaded guilty to the robbery of the 7-11. The defendant appealed from the partial denial of the motion to suppress. The Appellate Division reversed and held that the stop was not based on reasonable and articulable suspicion. The Supreme Court affirmed. The Court held that “the only information the officer possessed at the time of the stop was the race and sex of the suspects, with no further descriptors. That information, which effectively placed every single Black male in the area under the veil of suspicion, was insufficient to justify the stop of the vehicle and therefore does not withstand constitutional scrutiny.”

Search entire site by keyword...

Search for Summaries by Hashtag...

Past Opinion Summaries