Law Offices of Michael T. Nolan, Jr.

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Warrantless Search Improper-- Evidence Suppressed

In October 2009, police responded to noise complaints coming from a house party held by Monmouth University students. Although conflicting accounts of the events emerged, the underlying scenario is apparent; five police officers were granted entry into the common area of the house whereupon they conducted a search for the responsible residents. The officers combed the main living room as well as the rest of the house, including the bedrooms located on the second and third floors. One officer entered defendant's unoccupied third floor bedroom and located a controlled dangerous substance, specifically ecstasy, on a countertop, even though the defendant was not present during the party. Meanwhile, the other officers had in fact located three of the residents and issued them summonses for violating noise ordinances.

During this case, the defendant moved to have the evidence of the drugs suppressed. The judge hearing this case agreed with the defense that the officers unlawfully extended their search beyond the first floor common area. Since there was an issue of noise nuisance coming from the home, the officers properly entered the home within their community caretaking capacity to abate the nuisance. However, the extent of their capacity to abate the nuisance is limited to locating the responsible residents. The judge in this case reasoned that the officers could have located the residents in ways that would not have required them to invade private areas of the home, such as demanding the guests to identify the residents. However, an officer's response to noise complaints does not permit a search of the residence that intrudes upon an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy.

Here, the officer did not obtain a search warrant, and therefore did not have the authority to search or seize anything within the home. This is not to say that a warrantless search is never permitted; exceptions to the warrant requirement do exist where an officer can properly conduct a necessary and reasonable search without a warrant. However, these exceptions are limited to compelling situations akin to emergencies. The circumstances of this case did not merit such a warrantless search, and therefore the court suppressed the evidence gathered during the search. 

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Law Offices of Michael T. Nolan, Jr.
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Brick, NJ 08723

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