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NJ House Search was Illegal Says Appellate Division

17
Jun
2010

by in Criminal Defense

State v. Riley K. Jefferson, ? N.J. Super. ?, 2010 N.J. Super. LEXIS 87 (May 21, 2010) – Denial of suppression motion affirmed in part, reversed in part. “The trial court began its decision by concluding that the citizen informant provided a reliable tip, and that the tip established a reasonable basis for the police to investigate the vehicle identified and defendant, who fit the description provided and, minutes later, was at the address where the police found the vehicle. We agree with these conclusions….

We hold, however, that the police entered defendant’s home when Sergeant Smith wedged herself in the doorway, and that they needed either a warrant or an exception from the warrant requirement of the federal and State constitutions to do so…. We disagree with the trial court’s conclusion that Sergeant Smith acted reasonably, meaning constitutionally, when she wedged herself in the front doorway to prevent defendant from closing it. The trial court found that the common hallway of the multi-family house was not open to the public, and the police were not privileged to enter that hallway. Contrary to the trial court’s implicit conclusion, reasonable suspicion to detain and question defendant pursuant to Terry, if the police had encountered him in a place where they had a right to be, did not authorize the police to enter his home for that purpose in the absence of consent or exigent circumstances….

[D]efendant’s possible willingness to speak to the police from inside his house did not translate into permission for them to enter. Defendant gave no indication that he had invited the police into the hallway, or into any part of his home. We reject the State’s argument that Sergeant Smith could reasonably believe that she was permitted to ‘move to the threshold to view [defendant’s] entire body and ascertain that defendant was not armed.’ In fact, she inserted herself into the doorway while defendant was peering from behind it, thus expressing his choice to exclude the police from his home….

In this case, the police had no warrant and made no showing of an exception from the warrant requirement when Sergeant Smith partially entered defendant’s residence to stop him from closing his front door. That conduct of the police infringed upon the ‘firm line at the entrance to the house’ when applying the protections of the Fourth Amendment. [Citations omitted].”

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