In this archive episode, Dennis talks about the implications of observing a hand-to-hand drug transaction and how to proceed. Recorded on 02/02/2018.

State v Moore 2004 – The detectives observed a group of approximately six people congregating in a vacant lot between Piggy s Bar and a delicatessen. The detectives parked three-quarters of a block away and conducted surveillance, using binoculars. Detective Abrams observed a man wearing a floppy hat leave the group and walk towards the rear of the delicatessen. Defendant and another man left the group and joined the man in the floppy hat. Defendant and his companion handed currency to that man and each received from him a small item in return, which they both immediately pocketed, before returning to the group.

Believing he had just witnessed a drug transaction, Detective Abrams promptly drove his vehicle towards the group. When the detectives arrived, defendant placed his hand in his right pocket and began to walk away. Detective Abrams exited the car and approached defendant to arrest him. The detective informed defendant that he had observed him participating in a drug transaction and grabbed defendant s right arm. Defendant removed his hand from his pocket to reveal two clear bags of a white powdery substance that was later identified as cocaine. Another detective recovered a similar bag of cocaine from defendant s companion. The detectives were unable to locate the third man who they believed had sold the drugs to defendant and his companion.

We turn now to apply those principles to the present case. Detective Abrams was an experienced narcotics officer. He previously had made numerous drug arrests in the same neighborhood, which was known to the police for heavy drug trafficking. Using binoculars, he observed three men move away from the group to the back of a vacant lot, and he saw defendant and his companion give money to the third person in exchange for small unknown objects. Based on his experience and those factors, it was reasonable for Detective Abrams to conclude that the totality of the circumstances supported a well-grounded suspicion that he had witnessed a drug transaction. Therefore, the trial court properly determined that there was probable cause for Detective Abrams to arrest defendant.…/nj-v-moore-2004/

State v Pagan – 2005 Conway observed Pagan conversing with codefendant Vasquez and then saw Vasquez hand Pagan what appeared to be paper currency in exchange for a small unknown object which Pagan took from his pocket and handed to Vasquez. Conway saw Vasquez inspect the object and place it in his right hand jacket pocket before walking away from Pagan.

The officer followed Vasquez to a dead end area of Division Street and approached him on foot. When Conway tapped Vasquez on the shoulder he turned around and removed his right hand from his jacket pocket, which allowed Conway to see two balloons in the pocket, each tied off in a knot, one green and one white. Based on his training and experience, Conway knew that heroin was often stored and sold in such a manner because it made it easier to swallow and destroy the drugs before the police could get them. Conway removed the objects from Vasquez’s pocket and placed him under arrest. About ten minutes later, Conway arrested Pagan for distribution of heroin and recovered $142 in U.S. currency from Pagan’s person.…/nj-v-pagan-2005/

State v Pineiro 2004 – Today in Moore we found probable cause based on the law enforcement officers’ observations in a high crime area, which included observing the defendant and a companion walk away from a group of people to the back of a vacant lot, and hand a third man currency in exchange for small unknown objects believed to be drugs. Moore, supra, 181 N.J. at 46-47, 853 A.2d at 907. Here, unlike in Moore, there was no observation of currency or anything else exchanged, rather, there was merely a transfer of a cigarette pack under circumstances that had both innocent and suspected criminal connotations. Moreover, there was no proof of “regularized police experience that objects such as [hard cigarette packs] are the probable containers of drugs.” Demeter, supra, 124 N.J. at 385-86, 590 A.2d at 1185. The sum of the evidence was merely the officer’s prior general narcotics training and experience, and his conclusory testimony that he knew that cigarette packs are used to transport drugs because he had seen that type of activity before. The evidence did not even include the number of times the officer had encountered the use of cigarette packs to exchange drugs or what percentage of observed cigarette packs held drugs.…/1980861/state-v-pineiro/