On May 21, 2015 the Appellate divsion decided State v. Robinson. In this case, while on late night patrol, a police officer noticed a car pull out of a motel in a high crime, high drug area. Deciding that the operation of the car was suspicious, the officer stopped the car after odserving an air fresherner hanging from the mirror, obstructed view. The driver admitted that his license was suspended and none of the occupants could name the owner of the car.
Dispatch advised that the driver and a passanger had open warrants and were known to carry weapons. They were arrested, searched and secured in patrol cars. The other two occupants were pat down and detained roadside. The officers then swept the car for weapons. Lifting a purse the passanger left on the front seat, the officer felt a heavy object with the outline of a gun and found a loaded 38 caliber handgun.
Following the denial of a motion to supress, Defendant Robinson pleaded guilty to possession of a weapon. On appeal, he argued that police were required to obtain a warrant before searching the car. Applying the rationale of State v. Gamble, the Court concluded that the search of the car was unlawful. The Court found that the officers did not see any suspicious movements upon approaching the car, the two who had warrants and were known to carry weapons were under arrest and secured in police cars, the other two occupants were not licensed and could not leave, and they were cooperative and made no attempt to get back to the vehicle. Given these facts, there was no reasonable suspicion that the car contained a gun or that the unlicensed passangers posed any threat to the officers requiring a protective sweep of the car. The officers should have obtained a warrant and not having done so, the weapon was suppressed as an illegal search.