Implications of State v. Alessi on Investigatory Traffic Stops, Fourth Amendment Protections & their Admissibility at Trial

Previously, it has been believed that in order for a police officer or detective to be able to stop a driver on the road, that they must have had just cause to do so. If that detective or police officer did not have just cause or believe that a traffic violation was occurring, it would be very difficult to admit any testimony that was taken from the driver in a trial for any subsequent charges that were filed in court if that testimony was mentioned since it was an unconstitutional stop. In New Jersey, there was a lack of clarity as to what testimony could be admitted at a trial from an unconstitutional stop by a police officer or detective. In State v. Alessi, the issue of an unconstitutional search and testimony was discussed at length and clarified as to how or whether it is permissible to be included at trial for evidence.

A Brief Overview of the Facts of State v. Alessi

The defendant was convicted in the Superior Court in Hunterdon County for burglary, hindering apprehension, and false reporting. The defendant appealed to the Supreme Court in order to reconsider the decisions of the lower courts. In 2011, the defendant was dating her married coworker Izzo and the relationship began to sour. Izzo parked his truck in the parking lot of a bar and entered the bar. The defendant saw Izzo enter the bar, went to the parking lot, entered Izzo’s truck, and removed some her personal items as well as Fornaciari’s personnel file who had previously filed a whistleblower claim against Izzo under N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 where her actions were captured by a surveillance camera. Defendant attempted to mail the personnel file to Fornaciari and the file ended up being returned to Izzo’s office, which commenced an investigation about how it left the office and the evidence that it was mailed from the Hillsborough Post Office that was close to the bar where Izzo’s car had been parked. Surveillance footage captured the defendant in the post office and sending the personnel file. This led detectives to visit her home in attempt to speak with her. When she failed to speak to them, they waited outside her complex for her to leave and pulled her over without committing a traffic violation. The detective then requested defendant to move to a more private location where she was interrogated for about an hour. Defendant later went to the police station where her statement was taken, and she invoked her right to counsel. Her statement led to Izzo being arrested where he indicated the defendant had stolen the Fornaciari’s file out of his car in front of the bar, which led to the surveillance tapes being found of the defendant taking the file at the bar. Defendant was indicted by a Hunterdon County grand jury with fourth-degree false reporting N.J.S.A. 2C:28-4(b)(1), third-degree hindering apprehension, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(4), and third-degree burglary, N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2(a)(1). Defendant attempted to appeal on several aspects of these charges based on the initial stop by the detective, which was reversed by the Appellate Division. Subsequently, a motion for reconsideration was filled in which the Appellate Division focused on the burglary charge alone and whether the initial testimony should be admitted, which was considered by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Important Factors Discussed in the Case

One of the most important factors discussed in this case was how the defendant’s testimony from her unconstitutional traffic stop clouded the fairness of her trial for burglary. The court wrestled with whether the testimony, which did arguably provide evidence that she took Fornaciari’s personnel file out of Izzo’s truck and mailed it at the post office, was constitutional to be used in her court case for burglary. The Supreme Court ended up holding that law enforcement must have reasonable and articulable suspicion of a traffic violation, the commission of a crime, or unlawful activity before executing a traffic stop. The Supreme Court also held that if such testimony was taken based on an unconstitutional traffic stop without reasonable suspicion of a traffic crime, then that testimony should have been excluded at trial in order to enable a defendant to be able to establish credibility and build a defense.

What Should I Do If I Suspect my Fourth Amendment Rights Have Been Violated from a Traffic Stop?

 If you have recently been pulled over by a police officer without the police officer having reasonably suspected you of a traffic violation or if you have been pulled over by a police officer without being reasonably suspected of a traffic violation and your statement was utilized in a court case relating to a different crime, then it is wise to speak with an attorney. An attorney will be able to review your case and determine if any information from your preliminary testimony can be prevented from being admitted during your trial to protect your Fourth Amendment rights. If your traffic stop and subsequent court case has occurred in New Jersey, then it is important to work with an attorney that is experienced in working on Criminal Defense cases in New Jersey. This way, you will be positioning yourself to have the best possible outcome in your upcoming case.

Focus on Criminal Defense and Domestic Violence

At the Bianchi Law Group, our firm primarily focuses on cases related to Criminal Defense and Domestic Violence. Both partners Robert Bianchi and David Bruno are former prosecutors who handled a wide range of cases including homicide, assault, sexual assault, robbery, fraud, domestic violence, along with municipal matters such as DUI. The Bianchi Law Group is equipped with experienced Criminal Defense attorneys in New Jersey to help individuals looking for a New Jersey lawyer to help navigate the criminal justice system while providing the best possible representation and legal outcome for our clients.

Former Prosecutors and Trusted by the Media

The Bianchi Law Group partners Robert Bianchi and David Bruno are former prosecutors who have handled the investigations and prosecutions of crimes in New Jersey and are certified along with only 250 other attorneys as certified criminal trial attorneys by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Robert Bianchi and David Bruno have extensive experience related to Criminal Defense cases in New Jersey. Robert Bianchi and David Bruno regularly appear as national legal analysts to comment and debate all most major news networks such as: Fox News, CNN, HLN, MSNBC, Fox Business among others.

The Bianchi Law Group focuses on practice areas related to Domestic Violence, Criminal Defense, and Municipal Court matters. Contact us at 862-210-8570 to discuss potential legal implications of the new regulations in New Jersey or any other legal issues you have.