March 19, 2009
Office of Professional Standards
New Jersey State Police
810 Bear Tavern Road - Suite 310
West Trenton, NJ 08628 (via Fax only to 609-882-2033)
RE: Complaint against Troopers Locchetto and Howell
Dear Sir or Madam:
Today, I read the Appellate Division's unpublished decision in State v. Vernett Shaw and Paul Green, Docket No. A-4829-07T4, on the Judiciary's Internet site [Endnote 1]. After reading it, I came away with the conclusion that it's the policy and practice of the New Jersey State Police to conduct motor vehicle searches without regard to whether or not a search warrant is legally required.
As a life-long New Jersey resident, I was distressed at what I read and decided to file an Internal Affairs complaint against Troopers Lewis Locchetto and Howell [Endnote 2] for their actions arising out of a motor vehicle stop occurring at about 9:40 p.m. on February 24, 2007. Please accept this letter as my complaint.
I would not be filing this complaint if I thought that Trooper Locchetto's and Trooper Howell's improper search was an isolated incident. If it was an isolated incident, I would trust that the State Police's Internal Affairs program would have already taken note of the problem and remedied it.
But, Trooper Locchetto's testified that:
a. "During a roadside stop, when you smell the odor of raw marijuana and/or burnt marijuana, you can search that car" without a warrant. (Decision, pp. 5-6).
b. He did not think of calling for a warrant while he was awaiting backup "because that's not our procedure." (Decision, p. 6).
c. When asked why they did not have the car towed to the State Police barracks and searched there, he responded "that's not what we do." (Decision, p. 6).
On page 7 of the decision, the defense attorney argued, apparently validly, "that the State Police policy to never apply for a warrant, telephonic or otherwise, was contrary to well-established case law."
It baffles me that the State Police would have, as a matter of policy, such a callous disregard for motorists' constitutional rights. I am certainly no fan of the "Drug War" [Endnote 3] but even if I was I would oppose this "we don't need no stinkin' warrants" policy because the failure of the Troopers to get a warrant in this case resulted in suppression of the evidence needed to convict the theoretical bad-guys.
So, I decided to file this Internal Affairs complaint. I figure that it the State Police really do have a policy that permits warrantless searches regardless of exigent circumstances or other factors, my complaint will be considered unfounded and the Troopers will suffer no punishment. While I would not like that result, at least I would know that the State Police simply consider themselves to be above the law.
Alternatively, if there really is no policy that permits unbridled, warrantless searches, and that indeed warrantless searches violate State Police rules and regulations, then I believe that the State Police administration would be as concerned as I am that Trooper Locchetto falsely testified that the State Police has established such a no-warrant policy. In such a case, I would think that both Troopers would be punished for searching the car without a warrant and that Trooper Locchetto would be punished for publicly misrepresenting the policies of the New Jersey State Police and creating a public perception that troopers are taught to ignore the rule of law.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. I await being notified of the disposition of my complaint.
2 No first name for Trooper Howell is listed in the Appellate Division decision.
3 I am a proud, long-time member of the Libertarian Party. The LP's position on the "War on Drugs" is articulated in the "Personal Privacy" plank of our platform at http://www.lp.org/platform