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Open Government Advocacy Project:
Your tax dollars at work in Mount Olive Township
 

Issue Detail:

 
A big fish slipped through former Morris County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi\'s fingers today when the Appellate Division affirmed a lower court\'s dismissal of drug charges against 22-year old Joshua Chafee. The Appellate Division agreed with both a municipal and Superior Court judges\' rulings that the duration of a police officer\'s May 26, 2011 \"investigatory stop\" of Chafee outside a Mount Olive convenience store was not justified. According to the appellate decision, Mount Olive Township Police Officer Joseph Abrusci, who is certified as a \"drug recognition expert,\" saw Chafee enter the convenience store on May 26, 2011 and was immediately taken by \"how red Chafee\'s eyes were.\" He also noted that Chafee \"had a very nervous appearance\" and moved around the store in a way that indicated that he \"didn\'t want to have direct contact with\" Abrusci. Abrusci noted however, that nothing in Chafee\'s speech or movement suggested that he was impaired by alcohol or drugs. Abrusci watched Chafee purchase rolling papers, walk across the parking lot and start his car. At that point, Abrusci approached the window of Chafee\'s car and demanded identification. Although Chafee was \"very defensive,\" he gave Abrusci his ID which confirmed that he was old enough to legally buy the rolling papers. Abrusci then conducted three field sobriety tests and, according to Abrusci, Chafee\'s performance was \"consistent with marijuana use.\" He arrested Chafee and, after a pat-down search revealed nothing illegal on his person, charged him with driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, failure to notify DMV of an address change and \"being under the influence of marijuana.\" In municipal court, Chafee filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the officer\'s only plausible suspicion--that Chafee might not have been old enough to buy rolling papers--was dispelled when he was able to prove he was 22-years old. Thereafter, Chafee argued, the officer had no articulable rationale for continuing to detain him. The lower court judge, after listening to an audio tape of Chafee\'s interaction with Abrusci, found that Chafee\'s \"speech was clear, and that it was not slurred and it was not slow.\" The judge found that Abrusci was acting on nothing more than a \"subjective hunch\" and and granted Chafee\'s motion to suppress. Bianchi\'s office twice appealed, and the Appellate Division affirmed the lower courts\' decisions and found that \"the officer\'s continued detention of defendant was based merely on his \'hunch\' that he had used marijuana sometime prior to entering the store.\" Consider the public resources that were spent on this case: a prosecution in municipal court, an appeal to Superior Court and a further appeal to the Appellate Division. Also consider that Chafee, who apparently had done nothing more than have \"red eyes\" and an aversion to interacting with police officers, had to hire a lawyer, Edward J. Bilinkas, to defend him throughout this entire ordeal. The Appellate Division\'s decision is on-line here.

 

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New Jersey Libertarian Party Open Government Advocacy Project: Your tax dollars at work in Mount Olive Township. December 20, 2012.
URL: http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2012/2012355Ya/
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