Do Police Have to Knock Before Entering My House?

14-2-3069 State v. G.A. , N.J. Super. App. Div. (per curiam) (10 pp.)

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

In a recent case decided by New Jersey’s Appellate Division, a defendant was indicted for third-degree possession of cocaine, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(1); third-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5(a)(1) and 2C:35-5(b)(3); second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b); fourth-degree prohibited weapons and devices, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(d); second-degree possession of a firearm in the course of committing a CDS offense, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4.1(a); and fourth-degree possession of a prohibited device, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3(f).  This was after police executed a search warrant of defendant’s home and found sixty-three baggies of cocaine, a defaced handgun, ammunition, and other evidence.

The issue at hand was whether the police lawfully executed the search warrant, or whether the police acted unreasonably.  Five detectives, and three uniformed patrol officers executed the search warrant. Two officers walked defendant towards his apartment from his car, while another officer met the detectives at the front door. Once at the apartment door, the defendant’s key was used in the door, then the door opened. The defendant’s grandmother was on the other side of the door.

The defendant filed a Motion to Suppress the evidence seized after the officers entered, arguing the police did not appropriately “knock and announce.” The purpose of the knock-and-announce rule is to reduce the risk of violence to police and the public, to protect the public’s privacy by eliminating the risk of entry into the wrong premises, and in order to prevent property damage.  Police are relieved from the obligation if knocking would be dangerous, result in the likely destruction of evidence, the flight of the suspect, a home is unoccupied, or where there are no privacy interest implicated.

The trial judge ruled that although the officers did knock and pause, they did not announce their presence and therefore their actions were unreasonable.  The Appellate division reversed the trial judge’s decision, ruling that because the burden shifts to the defendant once a search warrant is validated, and because uniformed officers standing in the front door is reasonable enough to not require the officer’s to announce themselves, the defendant did not meet his burden and the evidence was not suppressed.

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