Anonymous Domestic Violence Tips Lead to Warrantless Searches in NJ
- February 21, 2012
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The Court is presently considering whether warrantless searches by police in New Jersey are permissible when responding to an anonymous tip. Frequently in family disputes it is not the parties making a 9-1-1 report to which police respond. Once police receive a domestic violence call, they are required to investigate and ensure the welfare of the any possible victims or family members.
In a case where the police received an anonymous domestic violence report about a woman being beaten and the alleged victim met police at the door in a clearly unharmed state the police sought permission to enter the residence. The victim stated there was no need as everything was fine.
In spite of her refusal to permit entry the police entered the residence, without a warrant, claiming a need under the community-caretaker doctrine. Upon entering the residence the police saw the alleged abuser unarmed, seated in a chair watching television. The police proceeded to search the apartment and did locate a gun hidden beneath a mattress near the alleged abuser.
Following indictment for a weapons offense, the Superior Court Judge granted a Motion to suppress the gun and the Appellate Division confirmed. The prosecution presented arguments to the Court. One argument was that the officers’ continued inquiry was appropriate because domestic violence victims often refuse to tell the police the truth about what happened out of fear or desire to protect the abuser. Another argument by the prosecution was that there was a child in the home and the child needed to be protected even if the alleged victim wished to avoid police involvement. Also, the prosecution argued that the search for the gun was justified under the safety exception as it was within the reach of the alleged abuser and could have been used against them.
The findings of the Court on this issue will bear influence on the results of domestic violence calls by neighbors or others for years to come. If the ruling favors the prosecution, it is possible that the home of a couple arguing, but not at all near violence, will be entered and searched by police officers called in by neighbors who thought they were doing a good deed. Once inside the police will be able to search at will for evidence of domestic violence which will bring them to the remotest corners of the interior looking for broken items, holes in walls, torn clothing or other signs of violence. Anything they locate along the way may then become evidence in a criminal trial against an individual who was never involved in the alleged underlying crime that brought police to the residence to search.
If you have been charged with a crime as a result of an illegal or warrantless search consult an attorney to find out about suppressing any evidence the prosecution has against you and obtaining a dismissal of the State’s case against you to protect your rights and your record. For more information on criminal charges and warrantless searches in New Jersey visit HeatherDarlingLawyer.com.