State v. Gagen

CourtNew Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
Citation392 A.2d 239,162 N.J.Super. 105
PartiesSTATE of New Jersey, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. James F. GAGEN, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date19 September 1978

Abrams & Wofsy, Jersey City, for defendant-appellant (Peter S. Valentine, Irvington, on the brief).

John J. Degnan, Atty. Gen., for plaintiff-respondent (William F. Hyland, former Atty. Gen., Katherine F. Graham, Deputy Atty. Gen., of counsel and on the brief).

Before Judges, BISCHOFF, MORGAN and HORN.


Defendant entered a negotiated plea of guilty to unlawful possession of lottery slips, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2:121-3(b). He appeals from said conviction on the sole ground that the judge erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence consisting of said lottery slips obtained as a result of a warrantless search. R.3:5-7(d). We agree with defendant's contention that the seizure of lottery slips from his person was unlawful and consequently reverse the order denying the suppression of the evidence.

The material facts developed at the evidential hearing through a single witness, the arresting officer, are not in dispute. Jersey City detectives were investigating wholesale pilferage of the Hudson Refrigeration Company (Hudson), allegedly by some of its employees. In the course of the investigation, about a week before July 16, 1974, a member of a private investigation agency employed by Hudson informed the witness that an employee of Hudson bearing defendant's name was taking "numbers actions" from the other employees.

On July 16, 1974, while about five feet outside the employees' entrance to Hudson's building in a routine check of exiting employees, the witness stopped defendant, informed him that he was from the police, exhibited his badge to him and asked defendant his name. Upon hearing defendant's name, " * * * at that point something clicked, so far as him being the man who was doing the numbers action, and there was a piece of paper in his pocket and I asked him to give it to me, which he did." The witness added that when defendant was coming out he had observed him "put something in his pocket, which I believe was that paper." The paper which defendant surrendered to the detective constituted the foundation for the charge to which defendant pled guilty and which was the subject of the suppression motion.

It is to be observed that except for learning defendant's name, as supplied by the private investigator, defendant's behavior did not in anywise indicate criminal activity. It clearly appears that seeing defendant openly place a piece of paper in his pocket made no impression upon the detective until the latter learned defendant's identity.

The judge ruled that the search was valid "only because there was a voluntary consent given." The State correctly concedes that this ruling was erroneous. 1 Notwithstanding that the judge expressed some doubt as to the validity of the search 2 and failed to make any findings of fact (R.1:7-4; Hallberg v. Hallberg, 113 N.J.Super. 205, 273 A.2d 389 (App.Div.1971)) as to probable cause, the State would have us sustain the judge's ruling on its argument that there was in fact probable cause and that the exigencies of the case warranted the detective's demand or a search in effect, that in the exercise of our original jurisdiction (R.2:10-5; Farmingdale Realty Co. v. Farmingdale, 55 N.J. 103, 106, 259 A.2d 708 (1969)) we should make findings consistent with that view. Since such findings would of necessity have to encompass a determination of the credibility of the testifying officer we would ordinarily decline to do so and would remand so that the trial judge could make appropriate findings (State v. Hodgson, 44 N.J. 151, 159-160, 207 A.2d 542 (1965), Cert. den. 384 U.S. 1021, 86 S.Ct. 1929, 16 L.Ed.2d 1022 (1966); State v. Smith, 32 N.J. 501, 549, 161 A.2d 520 (1960), Cert. den. 364 U.S. 936, 81 S.Ct. 382, 5 L.Ed.2d 367 (1961)). See also, State v. Smith, 113 N.J.Super. 120, 273 A.2d 68 (App.Div.1971), certif. den. 59 N.J. 293, 281 A.2d 806 (1971). Because, however, we are of the belief that even imparting complete credibility to the testimony of the testifying officer there was a lack of probable cause, we need not remand; instead, we so hold and reverse.

The so-called "short-hand" test of whether there is probable cause to make a warrantless arrest is whether "under the circumstances a prudent man would be warranted in the belief that a crime probably is being committed." State v. Sims, 75 N.J. 337, 355, 382 A.2d 638, 648 (1978). In the case at bar all that was before the court was the information supplied by the private investigator 3 that defendant was suspected of engaging in illegal lottery activity. The police did nothing during the week which followed the receipt of this information to verify it. In fact, the police did not know whether the informer's information was based on personal knowledge or hearsay. In the face of defendant's challenge of this testimony as hearsay, although the prosecutor had the opportunity to establish that it was based on personal observation, he chose to rest without meeting that challenge.

The State contends that information supplied by a citizen-informer is inherently trustworthy, so that it is unnecessary to "further explor(e) or (verify) * * * his personal credibility before appropriate police action is undertaken." State v. Lakomy, 126 N.J.Super. 430, 435, 315 A.2d 46, 49 (App.Div.1974). But Lakomy, on which the State heavily relies, is distinguishable. The "police action" undertaken in that case was a "pat-down," or frisk of an individual reported by a citizen to be in possession of a weapon. In such cases, the police action is not a search for the purpose of detecting evidence of criminal activity; instead, it is a method of protecting the investigating officer and others from the danger of dealing with one suspected of being armed. Lakomy, supra at 433, 315 A.2d 46. See also, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968); State v. Dilley, 49 N.J. 460, 231 A.2d 353 (1967). In this latter case, as stated in Lakomy, 126 N.J.Super. at 433, 315 A.2d at 48, "(t)he court noted (at 467, 231 A.2d at 356) that such a stop and frisk 'is not to be viewed as a formal arrest requiring probable cause.' "

More recently, in State in Interest of H.B., 75 N.J. 243, 381 A.2d 759 (1977), our Supreme Court delineated the differences between the concept of a "frisk" for dangerous weapons as a protective measure for the police or others and the ordinary warrantless search for contraband, and clearly restricted the basis for the former. Thus it said:

* * * (W)e intend our decision here, justifying a protective frisk, to be narrow enough to be understood as comprehending only such lethal material, Vis-a-vis gambling paraphernalia or narcotic contraband, for instance, although they too would evidence criminal activity. (at 251, 381 A.2d at 763)

A review of H.B. makes it eminently clear that what is reasonable for the purpose of personal protection for police or others may not constitute probable cause for executing a warrantless search.

The State also refers to State v. Canola, 135 N.J.Super. 224, 343 A.2d 110 (App.Div.1975), mod. on other grds. 73 N.J. 206, 374 A.2d 20 (1977), and State v. Kurland, 130 N.J.Super. 110, 325 A.2d 714 (App.Div.1974), in support of its contention that a citizen-informer's information is regarded as so inherently trustworthy as to obviate the necessity to verify his credibility. These cases do recognize the superior quality of information from such sources. But they do not go as far as the State urges. In Canola, for example, although the court stated (at 230, 343 A.2d 110) that a citizen-informer occupies "a different status," it did not decide that that status alone was sufficient. It relied in upholding the search of an apartment on not only the information supplied to the police by the citizen-informer but also on "the independent knowledge of the police concerning the details of the crime (robbery and murder)," Id., at 230, 343 A.2d at 113, and the exigencies of the situation, which made the warrantless entry into the defendant's apartment imperative.

In Kurland the court said:

* * * When information is provided by a cooperative citizen, or an informant not from the criminal milieu, there is less need for establishing credibility of the informant. An ordinary citizen who reports a crime has been committed in his presence stands on a much different ground than a police informer. He is a witness to a crime who acts with an intent to aid the police in law enforcement because of his concern for society. He does not expect any gain or concession in exchange for his information. A citizen-informer of this type usually would...

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2 cases
  • State v. Williams
    • United States
    • Superior Court of New Jersey
    • September 4, 1991
    ...of a search warrant. [State v. Kurland, 130 N.J.Super. 110, 114-115, 325 A.2d 714 (App.Div.1974) ] The court in State v. Gagen, 162 N.J.Super. 105, 392 A.2d 239 (App.Div.1978), It will be noted that the tenor of this quotation indicates that it is assumed [598 A.2d 1267] that the citizen-in......
  • U.S. v. Eddy, 80-2166
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • October 7, 1981
    ...Ribich had entered, and because there was no independent method for checking the veracity of the caretaker. New Jersey v. Gagen, 162 N.J.Super. 105, 392 A.2d 239 (1978). See United States v. Gaultney, 615 F.2d 642 (5th Cir. 1980), rev'd on other grounds, sub nom. Steagald v. United States, ......

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