Can a Police Officer Follow Me Into My Home

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
A case was recently decided by New Jersey’s Supreme Court regarding a warrantless search of a defendant’s home. In the case, an officer responded to a noise complaint; essentially a municipal ordinance charge! The defendant was standing on the porch of his home when the officer showed up. Upon the defendant opening the door to the porch area, the officer allegedly smelled burnt marijuana. When asked to provide identification, the defendant began to walk away. The officer stopped the defendant and requested for identification once again. The defendant stated he could retrieve identification from inside his home. The officer stated that he would have to accompany the defendant into his home. At this juncture the officer did not testify to the court he observed any illegal activity (other than the smell of weed) and was not in fear of his own safety! As they were walking, the officer noticed a bulge in the defendant’s sweatshirt.
Both the defendant and the officer entered the defendant’s home. The defendant provided identification to the officer. The defendant then took off his sweatshirt and gave it to the woman inside the home to take upstairs. The officer said he had to confiscate the sweatshirt. A canine unit was called, and a handgun was found in the defendant’s sweatshirt. The defendant was indicted on second-degree unlawful possession of a handgun.
The Supreme Court ruled that the officer unlawfully entered the defendant’s home, because the defendant was only being detained for investigation. An officer can only accompany a suspect into their home without a warrant if the suspect is under arrest. Since this defendant had not been placed under arrest, the officer cannot enter the suspect’s home without a warrant or a waiver of the suspect’s 4th Amendment right against warrantless searches. If a suspect is placed under arrest, the arresting officer can follow the suspect into the house, but cannot lead the suspect into other areas for the purpose of the searching the home.
This is an important issue for police officers and the general public. A police officer only needs a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed to make an investigative stop, just like this case. In order for a police officer to make an arrest he must have probable cause, which is a much higher standard than a reasonable suspicion. Therefore, this case says that a police officer needs probable cause in order to follow a suspect into his home. If it is just a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed, the police officer cannot enter the home without a warrant.
If you or someone you know has been the subject of what you believe was an illegal search or if you have any questions, you should contact an experienced attorney right away.

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