Handgun Located By Casino Valet Not Suppressed
- April 6, 2015
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Phillip King was charged with second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun (N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b)). King left his car with a casino valet at Trump Plaza and, upon entering the vehicle the valet noticed the center console to be partially open. The valet then attempted to close the console and could not. Upon opening the console to attempt to move the obstruction, the valet saw the obstruction was the butt of a handgun. The valet returned the console lid to its partially opened position and notified local police. Upon arrival, the police found the vehicle’s center console cover to be in the partially opened position and, without first obtaining a search warrant, opened the console to look inside and removed the handgun from the center console. The vehicle had Pennsylvania license plates, King had a valid Pennsylvania driver’s license and a valid Pennsylvania gun carry permit and claimed he was unaware that he could not legally transport the firearm in his vehicle in New Jersey. King sought to suppress the handgun over the State’s argument that warrantless search was valid under the community caretaking exception, the automobile exception and the third-party exception. The court held that the State had ample time to secure a warrant as the vehicle was parked in the casino’s garage and officers present at the scene could insure the vehicle was not moved. The court further held that the officer’s search exceeded the scope of the valet’s private search and therefore the third-party exception to the warrant requirement was invalidated. The State appealed with regard to the third-party intervention exception to the warrant only. The exemption assumes that a private party discovered the item or information and turned it over to police and therefore there was no violation of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. Burdeau v. McDowell, 256 U.S. 465, 41 S. Ct. 574, 65 L. Ed. 1048 (1921). The court considered State v. King to be very similar to United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 104 S. Ct. 1652, 80 L. Ed.2d 85 (1984) wherein a private party initially searched and notified authorities of the discovery then police went further in their search than the private party had. In Jacobsen the Supreme Court held that the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the cocaine discovered by the mail carrier. The court also reviewed State v. Marshall, 123 N.J. 1 (1991), State v. Minitee, 210 N.J. 307 (2012), State v. Saez, 268 N.J. Super. 250 (Ap. Div. 1993) and State v. Wright, 431 N.J. Super. 558 (App. Div. 2013), where in each case warrantless searches extended after third-party initiation were upheld by New Jersey courts. After considering the areas searched in the above mentioned matters and the expectation of privacy one could reasonably hope to have in a vehicle willingly turned over with keys to a valet, the court found that the officers actions beyond the scope of the valet in State v. King were minimal and therefore upheld the search and reversed the suppression of the handgun. Second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm or handgun carries up to 10 years in prison with a mandatory parole ineligibility period under the Graves Act (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-6(c)). If you are facing weapons charges you should seek experienced criminal defense counsel immediately. For more information about weapons possession, use or possession of a gun in the commission of a crime, possession of a handgun without a permit, weapons possession while on probation or parole, illegal weapons or other weapons related charges in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com. This blog is for informational purposes only and not intended to replace the advice of an attorney.