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New Jersey Appellate Court: under Circumstances Police May Enter, without Search Warrant, Third-Party Residence to Arrest Dangerous Suspect

New Jersey Constitution protects private property, especially one’s home, from warrantless search and seizure. However, under certain circumstances, the police may enter a private residence to arrest a dangerous suspect, even if there is no warrant to enter and search such residence. In such case, any evidence, such as weapons or illegal drugs, found in the residence in plain view, may lead to separate charges.

In a recent published opinion, State v. Craft (Docket# A-5022–10T2), decided on May 14, 2012, New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, looked at one of those cases. In that case, the police had a warrant to arrest one James Craft, based on a shooting incident. Police officers arrived to the residence of James Craft’s mother, but they did not have a warrant to enter her residence. The Court found, however, that the mother voluntarily let the police enter the apartment. Next, the mother said that she did not know where her son was and offered to the police officers that she would call on the son’s cell phone. When she called James Craft’s cell phone, one police officer heard a phone ringing in one of the rooms of the residence, behind a closed door. The officer then entered that room and found the suspect there trying to escape through a window. The police then arrested James Craft and found an unregistered weapon and illegal drugs in the room, in plain view.

The issue before the Appellate Division was whether the police officer could open the bedroom door in the mother’s residence, without having a warrant to search that residence, after the officer heard the phone ringing behind the door. The Court held that under the circumstances the actions of the police officers were “objectively reasonable” and they could enter the mother’s bedroom. The Court reasoned that the police had reasons to believe that potentially armed and dangerous suspect was in the bedroom, after they heard the phone ringing, and it was impracticable in that situation to obtain a separate search warrant. The Court thus concluded that the weapon and the illegal drugs found in the bedroom in plain view should not be suppressed from the evidence.

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