An Officer Standing in The Driveway Without a Warrant Cannot Utilize the Warrantless Search of Plain View If the Officer is Not Lawfully in the Area at the Time
Appellate Docket No.: A-1500-20
Decided February 13, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Drug Crime Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent published opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reversed a denial of a motion to suppress after finding that officers were not lawfully in the defendant’s driveway and could not view the CDS under the porch in plain view.
In State v. Ingram, Trenton Police Officer Jonathan Cincilla testified that on June 15, 2018, he and his partner, Detective Jeffrey Donaire, were on patrol in Trenton in an unmarked police car. At approximately 7:45 p.m., they were driving on Christoph Avenue and saw a man, later identified as defendant Raymond Ingram, standing by the front porch of 27 Christoph Avenue.
Cincilla stated that 27 Christoph Avenue was a duplex, a two-family home. He described the house as “abandoned,” explaining that the “exterior was in disrepair, the front porch was dilapidated, . . . [t]he lawn was overgrown, there were no lights on, [and] windows were broken.”
Cincilla explained that defendant was standing on a section of concrete that was part of the driveway and defendant was right next to the front porch of the home. When Cincilla observed defendant from the patrol car, defendant was looking down at a cigarette box he was holding. As Cincilla drove closer, he also saw a glass vial with “a yellow tinted liquid in it.” The vial was on the edge of the porch “directly next to” defendant. Cincilla believed the liquid in the vial was phencyclidine (PCP), explaining that he had seen PCP many times as part of his duties investigating illegal drug activity.
The officers then stopped, exited their car, and ordered defendant to stop; and defendant complied. Donaire walked over to defendant, while Cincilla walked to where defendant had been standing on the driveway, near the porch. Cincilla explained that he had walked approximately five steps off the sidewalk and stood on a section of the concrete that was part of the driveway. From that vantage point on the driveway, Cincilla saw a “softball” size hole “on the top of the porch like right where the edge was.” Cincilla went on to explain that the hole was directly in his line of sight, and inside the hole he saw the cigarette box and glass vial. Cincilla then reached into the hole and retrieved the items.
After his arrest, defendant was indicted for four crimes: third-degree possession of PCP, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1) (count one); first-degree possession of PCP with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and (b)(6) (count two); third-degree possession of PCP with intent to distribute near school property, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7(a), and N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and (b)(6) (count three); and second-degree hindering apprehension, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(3) (count four).
Defendant’s motion to suppress was denied by the trial court and defendant appealed. The Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s denial, finding that the driveway and porch are curtilage of the home, and those areas implicate the same constitutional protections as the rest of the house. The officer, standing in the driveway without a warrant cannot utilize the warrantless search of plain view if they are not lawfully in the area at the time.
This case is important to understand New Jersey has expansive protections against unlawful search and seizure. This includes warrantless searches of homes. This case confirms the expansion of the protections of the home to the porch and driveway.
If you or someone you know have been charged with any indictable offense or disorderly persons, or you have questions regarding warrantless searches, plain view exception, reasonable suspicion, or probable cause, contact the experienced attorney at Hark & Hark to ensure you are adequately defended.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make an arrest.
We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing criminal charges similar to this circumstance, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington ,Haddon Heights ,Pine Hill ,Bellmawr ,Haddon Township , Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.