STATE v. CHRISTOPHER JENKINS, SC 18077
Judicial District of New Britain
Criminal; Search and Seizure; Whether the Police Improperly Expanded the Scope of a Motor Vehicle Stop; Whether the Defendant's Consent to a Search was the Poisonous Fruit of an Illegal Stop. A Newington police officer stopped the defendant's vehicle after observing the defendant make two lane changes without using his turn signal. After learning that the defendant's license was valid and that there were no outstanding warrants for the defendant's arrest, the officer nonetheless called a second officer for backup assistance. By the time the first officer had finished filling out an infraction ticket for the traffic violations, the second officer had arrived on the scene, and, after explaining the ticket, the first officer asked the defendant if he had anything illegal in his vehicle. The defendant denied having anything illegal and told the officer that he could check if he wanted. The officer's search revealed large amounts of heroin and cocaine. After being charged with possession of narcotics, the defendant moved to suppress the seized evidence. Following the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress, the defendant entered a conditional plea of nolo contendere and appealed. The Appellate Court (104 Conn. App. 417) reversed, finding that, while the initial stop of the defendant's vehicle was justified, the police improperly expanded the scope of the traffic stop after its initial purpose had been achieved. The court found that the questioning of the defendant about whether he was engaged in unrelated illegal activity and the subsequent search of his vehicle, as well as a search of his person, all took place after the stop reasonably should have ended and that the evidence presented by the state at the suppression hearing did not establish that the police had any reasonable and articulable suspicion justifying an expansion of the initial stop. Finally, the court found that the defendant's consent to the search was tainted by the illegal detention and accordingly that the evidence procured through the defendant's consent should be suppressed. The Supreme Court will now consider the state's claim that the Appellate Court improperly reversed the denial of the motion to suppress. The state claims that the Appellate Court based its decision on a claim that the defendant had abandoned on appeal, relied on a supposed factual finding never made by the trial court and wrongly construed inadequacies in the appellate record against the state. The state also argues that because the stop of the defendant was based on probable cause to believe that traffic offenses had been committed, rather than on reasonable suspicion, the police were not obliged to limit the scope or length of the stop. Finally, the state contends that, even if the defendant was being unlawfully detained when the officer questioned him, his consent to the search was nonetheless valid because it was the product of the defendant's independent free will and not of any police illegality.