In Order for Search and Seizure, Officers Need Probable Cause Through A Warrant or Circumstances That Would Ordinarily Permit Officers to Get A Warrant

State v. Weaver

Appellate Docket No.: A-4582-18

Decided April 6, 2021

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

            In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed a police search of a home that lead to finding firearms under a mattress without a warrant and in search of the defendant who was believed to have fled into the home.

In State v. Weaver, at approximately 3:20 p.m. on July 13, 2018, police were conducting surveillance at the Barnegat Wawa, “a high narcotics traffic area.” Officer Martinez saw defendant, who he immediately recognized from prior police investigations, driving a white Tucson with Ontario, Canada, license plates; a female passenger, who Martinez also recognized from prior police contact, was in the car. Martinez knew at least one prior investigation involved defendant’s possession of a firearm, and he also knew that defendant’s driver’s license was suspended. Additionally, a confidential informant had told Martinez “very recent[ly]” that he saw defendant with a weapon. Martinez later testified that defendant was a victim in a shooting in May or June, and the informant described a particular weapon he saw in defendant’s possession about the same time.

Defendant quickly drove by officers in an attempt to run them over after speeding off.  Within “a couple [of] minutes,” another officer located the Tucson parked in front of a home on Mast Drive. Martinez testified the address was “a known location” for defendant, and home of a woman who was pregnant with defendant’s child. The passenger Martinez saw earlier driving with defendant was standing next to the Tucson, speaking with other officers. She denied knowing where defendant was and claimed she did not know why he “ran.”

Martinez said a “concerned citizen” told police that defendant exited the Tucson and ran into the Mast Drive house. As police approached the front door, the owner came outside. She said defendant was not inside but told Martinez he could go in and look. Martinez did not review a “standard consent . . . form” with her prior to entering the home. He estimated that between five to eight minutes had passed since defendant fled from the motor vehicle stop.

The officers performed a protective sweep in search of defendant.  Officers spotted a large bulge underneath the mattress in a bedroom.  Upon lifting the mattress police found a handgun and a large blue case. Police eventually found defendant hiding in the bathroom.

Defendant was charged with the firearm and filed a motion to suppress, arguing the warrantless search was unlawful.  The judge found the officer’s testimony credible and denied defendant’s motion to suppress, ruling that the exigency of the circumstances and the consent of the home owner allowed officers to search for defendant. Officers were also reasonable in believing the gun under the mattress could have been someone hiding.

Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division affirmed, finding the judge’s factual determinations that the officer’s testimony was credible leaves the Appellate Division to uphold the trial court’s decision, as the judge believed it was reasonable for officers to believe there may have been someone under the mattress. In addition, the circumstances from prior knowledge of defendant and him possessing a firearm in the past all led to a reasonable warrantless search of defendant.

The importance in this case is understanding the different levels of information officers need when investigating to be able to properly make an arrest and charge someone with a crime.  In order to observe or ask questions without any information, officers are permitted to do this so long as it is clear that the person can leave at any time and decline to answer.  In order to physically stop someone and detain them, officers need a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person is committing a crime.  Last, in order to arrest or for search and seizure, officers need probable cause through a warrant or circumstances that would ordinarily permit officers to get a warrant.

Knowing these levels of information is crucial.  As in this circumstance, officers can perform a protective sweep incident to an arrest. Often times this is searching a person or a vehicle for weapons or something that the defendant could easily reach during an arrest.  Going into defendant’s home after arresting him outside and not inside prevented officers from further searching defendant’s home to secure the evidence.

If you or someone you know was in a situation similar to this, contact Hark & Hark today.

At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case involving motions to suppress. 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, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties. We represent clients in all towns in New Jersey, including Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Edison, Woodbridge, Lakewood, Toms River, Hamilton, Trenton, Clifton, Camden, Brick, Cherry Hill, Passaic, Middletown, Union City, Old Bridge, Gloucester Township, East Orange, Bayonne, Franklin Township, North Bergen, Vineland, and Union.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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