Is a Warrantless Search of a Home Justified After the Occupant Was Detained Outside the Home?

State v. Christopher Radel

State v. Keith Terres

Appellate Docket No.: A-44-20


Decided January 20, 2022

Submitted by New Jersey New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In a recent opinion, the Supreme Court of New Jersey reviewed two cases to determine whether police warrantless search of a home was justified after the occupant was detained outside the home.

In State v. Radel, In October 2015, the court entered an order directing in part that “members of Little Falls Police Department respond to [Radel’s] home, located at 103 Browertown Road in the Township of Little Falls, immediately upon receipt of a copy of this Order, for the limited purpose of retrieving” any firearms, including a Beretta. Sergeant Prall learned that Radel resided at 81 Browertown Road; that Radel had two active municipal arrest warrants; and that — based on a firearms registry search — Radel possessed firearms other than the Beretta listed on the order. On January 19, 2016, Sergeant Prall set in motion a plan to enforce the order to retrieve weapons and arrest Radel on the outstanding warrants.

At 10 a.m., seven Little Falls police officers positioned themselves to surveil both 103 and 81 Browertown Road, which were separated by only two other houses. Within ten minutes of the start of the surveillance, a sergeant heard a very loud metallic bang coming from the backyard of 81 Browertown and, almost simultaneously, saw a person “wearing something blue” enter the rear door of the residence. Less than ten minutes after the sergeant’s sighting of a blue-clad person in the backyard, Radel walked out the front door of 81 Browertown, wearing a blue coat and carrying a laundry basket. Radel placed the basket in the backseat of his car, which was parked in the driveway. When Radel turned around, a detective arrested and handcuffed him. He did not resist

Sergeant Prall hoped to secure Radel’s consent to search his house but determined that Radel’s impaired condition due to alcohol or drugs ruled out that option. Sergeant Prall ordered a protective sweep of 81 Browertown for purposes of officer safety because there were weapons and other persons “potentially on the property.” Sergeant Prall came to that conclusion because two vehicles were parked in the driveway; the home’s windows had coverings, obstructing a view into the residence; the blue-jacketed person the other sergeant observed in the backyard may not have been the same person who exited the front door; and the order directed the officers to retrieve the firearms.

During the approximately five-minute sweep, no one was found inside. In carrying out the sweep, however, the officers observed in plain view imitation firearms, butterfly knives, hatchets, bows and arrows, a ballistic vest, simulated police identification badges, marijuana, drug paraphernalia, a glass pipe, and a safe capable of storing firearms. The police transported Radel to headquarters and secured the residence. After obtaining a search warrant, the police found multiple weapons, drugs and related paraphernalia, and over $8,000 in cash.

Radel was charged and filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence seized as a result of an unlawful search. The trial court denied Radel’s motion to suppress the evidence, and the Appellate Division reversed, finding “no support for the [trial court’s] conclusion that the police had a reasonable and articulable suspicion that there were other persons inside the home or that they posed a risk to the police or others.”

The Supreme Court of New Jersey granted certification and agreed with the Appellate Division that officers lacked reasonable and articulable suspicion that the officers’ safety was at risk justifying the warrantless search of the home. Radel was already detained without issue and there was no further information to support the officers entering the home to find the weapons or secure the scene.

This case is important to understand what is required and lawful to conduct an investigatory stop, followed by an arrest. To conduct a lawful investigatory stop, also know as a Terry stop, officers need a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a crime is being committed. This is the same standard for police to enter a home without a warrant once an individual is detained.  There must be a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the officers’ safety is in jeopardy. Otherwise, officers must obtain a warrant.

If you or someone you know have been charged with any indictable offense or disorderly persons involving a search and/or questioning of police, contact the experienced attorney at Hark & Hark to ensure you are adequately defended, otherwise you could have negative impacts on your case like the defendant above.

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.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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