5/27/2013New Jersey: Court Upholds Man Arrested For Visible Gun Case In Car
New Jersey appellate court upholds five-year sentence for ex-cop who was driving with his legally owned guns.
Motorists driving through New Jersey can be subjected to a warrantless search if their luggage is similar in appearance to a gun case, an appellate court ruled last week. The Superior Court's Appellate Division upheld a five year prison sentence against Dustin S. Reininger, a former police officer who was in the process of moving from Maine to Texas when a Readington Township police officer recognized the cases in the back of Reininger's vehicle as the sort that usually carries a rifle.
During the long trip on March 20, 2009, Reininger became tired and decided to pull off the road in an empty, well-lit parking lot. He stopped his green Toyota SUV, turned off his lights, and went to sleep in the driver's seat under a blanket. At 3:25am, Officer Gregory Wester knocked on his window and woke him up, shining a flashlight in his eyes. Officer Wester testified that Reininger appeared "nervous and tired." The policeman asked Reininger whether he was carrying anything illegal.
"No, no, all good," Reininger replied.
Reininger believes he was targeted because of his Texas license plates. Officer Wester then looked inside the SUV with his flashlight noticed two nylon cases in the back seat. Once backup arrived, Officer Wester asked for consent to search the vehicle, but Reininger said no. Officer Wester then opened up the vehicle to search the cases "for safety reasons" any way. Reininger was arrested.
After obtaining a warrant, police recovered fourteen rifles, four shotguns and three handguns, including a loaded Glock. A grand juror had asked the prosecutor whether this man would have been charged if he had used a different case.
"Basically, if someone is moving... from Residence A to Residence B, or transporting, say, for example, they just purchased it, so they can transport it to their home, if they are properly secured, locked in a trunk, locked in a special lockbox and unloaded, then that would most likely provide an exception to these requirements, and therefore a defense to being charged," prosecutor Bennett Barlyn explained.
Reininger's SUV did not have a trunk, and state law only requires the firearm be in a "closed and fastened case" or "securely tied package" while transported. His attorney argued the zippered cases satisfied this requirement.
A jury acquitted him of the charges for possession of the "assault firearms" and handgun possession but convicted him in absentia of illegal possession of hollow-point bullets, shotguns, rifles and a high-capacity magazine. He was apprehended in Texas and extradited to New Jersey.
"What I don't understand is I am a citizen without a criminal history who has served this country not only in the military but as a volunteer to my community and as a police officer, not even making hardly any income at all, and I would have given my life to protect another person and for this country," Reininger said in a statement. "How can I be convicted for exercising my right? When does it become a crime for exercising one's right?"
The three-judge appellate panel insisted New Jersey's gun control laws do not violate the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, citing the Supreme Court's recent Heller decision.
"The Second Amendment does not create 'a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever purpose,'" Judge Ronald B. Graves wrote for the panel. "Furthermore, the Second Amendment does not preclude the state from regulating the manner in which accessories must be transported."
The court also upheld the warrantless search of Reininger's vehicle.
"Based on the outward appearance of the nylon cases, Wester reasonably believed they contained rifles or shotguns that were easily accessible to defendant," Judge Graves wrote. "In our view, however, the warrantless seizure was not necessary for the officers' safety, because defendant had been removed from the vehicle and there were multiple backup officers at the scene. Nevertheless, we conclude the limited seizure was valid under the plain view exception to the search warrant requirement."
A copy of the decision is available in a 170k PDF file at the source link below.