Warrantless Search Leads To Drug Charges
- March 28, 2014
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In State v. Tepper, the police entered a woman’s residence without a warrant and she was subsequently charged with 3rd degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) with intent to distribute (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a) as a result of marijuana the police observed while in the residence. The defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence based on the unlawful entry of the police onto her property was denied when the Somerset County Superior Court Judge held that the warrantless entry was valid under the “community caretaking” doctrine. Police went to the defendant’s residence based on a school bus driver’s complaint about a car, bearing her tags, passing the bus while stopped. When they arrived at the residence, officers found the car in question and knocked to no avail. Seeing lights on in the residence and allegedly finding a rear sliding door ajar, the police entered the residence without a warrant believing a burglary to be in progress or recently committed. Upon their search of the entire residence, the officers located several jars in the basement containing marijuana, some Ecstasy pills, paraphernalia and cash. The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as the NJ Constitution, bars warrantless searches and seizures unless there one of the well-delineated exceptions apply. The basis of each exception is reasonableness of the search when reviewed under the totality of the circumstances. There is a presumption against warrantless searches and seizures and the prosecution bears the burden of justifying the entry into private property without a warrant. Additionally, people have a right to the greatest amount of privacy within their homes and warrantless searches thereof should be subject to the highest scrutiny. In undertaking their search, the officers entered the rear yard of the residence and entered upon a rear deck which is overreaching without a warrant, however, the Appellate Court deemed this to be simply for the purpose of contacting the residents and not illegal. At the time the decision was made to deny the suppression motion State v. Vargas, 213 N.J. 301 (2013) had not yet been decided. In Vargas, the NJ Supreme Court set forth a test to determine the validity of a warrantless search. The NJ Appellate Division remanded to the trial court for a determination under the Vargas test. If you are facing drug charges or believe you are being prosecuted in a matter based on an illegal search by the police, you should obtain experienced criminal defense counsel to represent you against the state and protect your rights. For more information about drug charges, warrantless searches or other serious criminal charges in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.