Police Search and Seizure of Drugs at Jersey Shore Party House Declared Illegal
Police overstepped their bounds by doing a room-by-room warrantless search of rented shore house after responding to a noise complaint, the New Jersey Supreme Court says. In May, 2012, the justices in State v. Kalter unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that suppressed drugs seized from a bedroom. The Court ruled that the police conducted an illegal search of the house and seizure of drugs in a bedroom.
Long Branch police arrived about 2:50 a.m., at the house where Derek Kalter and several other people were renting, where a party was going on. The police knocked on the door and a young man opened but walked away before he could be questioned. The officers walked around the first floor of the house, asking who lived there. Nobody responded. The police walked upstairs and looked inside a third-floor bedroom where they saw pills and a white powdery substance in plan view, along with an identification card belonging to Kalter. Kalter was actually with his parents in Rochelle Park at the time but drove to Long Branch after another resident called him. He was arrested on arrival and charged with drug offenses.
The state argued that the search was necessary to clear out the party, abate the noise and ensure no one needed emergency medical attention. The police said there were 120 to 150 people at the party. Some witnesses at the party stated that the officers forced open doors and demanded to know where the occupants were. The Court found that the police officers initial entry into the house was permissible because somebody opened the door for them. No exigency existed to justify the police officers’ full blown search of the house. The officers were not justified in fanning out and conducting, in essence, a complete search of the house under the circumstances.
The law says that police cannot search a house without a warrant based on something as minor as a noise complaint. The police must obtain a warrant or consent to search the house in the absence of exigent circumstances. The court suppressed the drug evidence and the charges were dismissed.
Please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of John W. Tumelty if you have a case involving an issue where the police conducted a search and seizure of evidence.
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