Gun evidence suppressed where police had no justification to search home

Under the United States Constitution, the search of a home without a warrant is presumptively unreasonable. Such a warrantless search of a home may only be performed if the search falls under certain specific exceptions.

One of those exceptions is referred to as exigent circumstances — that is, a situation where an emergency requires an immediate search. But what happens when the police stretch the definition of an emergency? The New Jersey Supreme Court case of State v. Edmonds provides an example, where the defendant was charged with unlawful gun possession.

No Domestic Disturbance, but Police Still Enter a Home

Police responded to an emergency call, reporting a domestic dispute that possibly involved a handgun in Carteret, New Jersey. However, when police arrived at the residence, the female resident was in front of the house and told the police there was no domestic disturbance and her 11-year-old son was the only person inside the house. Yet, against her will, the police entered the apartment, allegedly to check on her son. Inside, there was no sign of a domestic disturbance and no distress or injuries related to the son.

The defendant was in an adjoining room, and despite the complete lack of evidence related to any domestic disturbance, the police removed the defendant from the room and frisked him. The police then searched the area where the defendant had been watching television and found a handgun under a pillow.

The defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a gun. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence of the gun, based on the search of the home without a warrant.

Was the Search Reasonable?

The New Jersey Supreme Court, in discussing the emergency-aid doctrine, explained that, particularly when applied to a home, the doctrine must be limited to the reason that created the need for immediate action. When the exigency had disappeared, the rationale for the search no longer existed, and the officers could not, for example, begin looking through drawers, cupboards or wastepaper baskets as they liked.

While the police had a duty to investigate the emergency call, the reasonable scope of the related intrusion depended on what they found upon arriving at the scene. Here, the reported victim was in front of the residence and exhibited no injuries.

At that point, the officers also had a duty to ensure the child inside was safe. However, once this was accomplished, and there was no sign of disarray in the home, the police continued with a search. The police search inside the home even overstepped the bounds of their community-caretaking role, related to protecting the welfare of a child.

Thus, the evidence of the handgun in the criminal proceedings would be suppressed.

Aggressive Representation

If you are accused of a weapons charge, or any criminal charge, you need an attorney who will provide aggressive representation of your interests, examining the charges as well as how the evidence against you was gathered. Seek out an attorney with the skills and determination you need to protect your freedom.