State v. Miller
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished opinion State v. Miller, the Appellate Division decided several important legal issues involving protection of the Fourth Amendment to the United States’ Constitution against unlawful search and seizure.
In State v. Miller, police recognized an individual sitting on outdoor steps to a home in a high crime area. The officers also recognized his vehicle. The officers ran the individual’s license plate and they found that there was an arrest warrant for the individual’s failure to pay a driver’s license restoration fee. When the officers approached the individual, he fled in the home behind him and shut the door.
The officers kicked open the door, and began a search for the fleeing suspect. There was an elderly lady on the first floor in which officers instructed to stay put for her protection. The officers heard noise coming from the 2nd floor, where they found the suspect and arrested him. The officers noticed that the suspect was no longer wearing the vest he had on when he entered the home. The bedroom nearby had a light on where the officers saw from the hallway the suspect’s vest, a bag of crack cocaine, and the handle of a firearm sticking out of the mattress.
The officers found out that the lady on the 1st floor was actually the suspect’s grandmother, who gave consent to the officers to search the rest of the home. The officers also found a scale, over $2,000 cash, and 50 individual baggies.
The Defendant made a motion to suppress the evidence found when the officers entered the home.
The Defendant first argued that the entry of the home was wrongful because the officers needed a search warrant. The Court ruled and the Appellate Division affirmed that the officers were in hot pursuit of the Defendant, and did not need a search warrant although the home the officers’ entered was not owned by the Defendant. The Appellate Division ruled that even though the warrant was for a minor violation such as failure to pay a restoration fee on a driver’s license, when a suspect flees from the execution of a warrant, regardless of its reason for issuance, police may pursue the suspect into a private residence, even if the suspect does not own the residence.
The Defendant next argued during his Motion to Suppress that once the officers found the Defendant on the second floor, they had no right to continue the search which led to the crack cocaine and handgun found in the bedroom. The Court ruled and the Appellate Division affirmed that the Defendant’s argument that the officers unlawfully performed a protective sweep search was without merit. The Court found that the officers found the evidence within the plain view exception to the warrant requirement, allowing the evidence of the crack cocaine and the firearm into evidence.