New Jersey Criminal Lawyer – Appellate Opinions – State v. O’Donnell

State v. O’Donnell, N.J. (2010)

The reasonableness of continuous police presence at the location initially accessed under the emergency aid exception is defined by [a three-part test] (1) “[t]he public official must have an objectively reasonable belief, even if later found to be erroneous, that an emergency demands immediate assistance in order to protect or preserve life, or to prevent serious injury; [ (2) ] the provision of assistance must be the prime motive for the public official’s warrantless entry; and, [ (3) ] any search must be limited to those places that have a nexus to the emergency.

In this case, where the police gained access and seized evidence without a warrant, the propriety of the access indisputably was established by the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement; the continued police presence at the site of the dead body of a six-year-old child was authorized until the scene could be turned over to the medical examiner without a break in custody; and the seizure of evidence of a crime was authorized by the plain view doctrine. In respect of the discrete issue presented in this appeal-whether it was proper for the police to remain on the premises and seize evidence after discovery of the dead body abated the initial emergency-the conclusion is, to us, clear: because the corpse remained at what was obviously the death scene and the police had the obligation to retain control of the premises until that control could be transferred to the medical examiner, the police had a continuing right to remain present at the scene. Thus, their continued presence was consonant with constitutional principles, and the plain view seizures performed during that period thus were constitutionally authorized.

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