State v. Vargas
State v. Vargas, A-56 September Term 2011; Supreme Court; opinion by Albin, J.; dissent by Patterson, J.; decided March 18, 2013. On appeal from the Appellate Division. [Sat below: Judges Yannotti and Espinosa in the Appellate Division; Judge Telsey in the Law Division.] DDS No. 14-1-9325 [54 pp.]
In this appeal, the court must decide whether, consistent with the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution, the community-caretaking doctrine authorizes the police to conduct a warrantless entry and search of a home to check on the welfare of a resident in the absence of the resident's consent or an objectively reasonable basis to believe that there is an emergency.
In this case, a landlord called the police because he had not seen or been able to contact a tenant for two weeks. During the two-week period, the tenant's garbage was not placed curbside, his mail accumulated, his car remained unmoved, and his monthly rent went unpaid. The landlord expressed concern for the tenant's well-being, and the police entered the home without a warrant and conducted a "welfare check" because they "had reasons to fear for his safety." They found no one home and no signs of foul play. In the living room they saw a jar containing what appeared to be marijuana. The landlord opened kitchen cabinets and drawers and found what "appeared to be two canning jars full of marijuana." A warrant was then secured to search the apartment.
Vargas was indicted for various crimes involving money laundering, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, unlawful possession of firearms, and other offenses. Vargas moved to suppress the evidence on the ground that the police entered and searched his apartment in violation of the warrant requirement.
The trial court suppressed the evidence because the warrantless entry and search were not prompted by an objectively reasonable emergency. The court specifically rejected the state's argument that the community-caretaking doctrine justified the warrantless search, finding that there was no objectively reasonable basis to believe that Vargas' life or well-being, or the community's safety, was in jeopardy. The trial court determined that there were no "exigent circumstances" to justify the warrantless search of Vargas' home.
The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that the community-caretaking doctrine did not require an exigency to conduct a warrantless search; it only required that the police act reasonably and that the search was based on a legitimate concern for Vargas' welfare.
The Supreme Court granted defendant's motion for leave to appeal.
Held: The community-caretaking doctrine is not a justification for the warrantless entry and search of a home in the absence of some form of an objectively reasonable emergency.
Courts consider Cady v. Dombrowski to be the origin of the community-caretaking doctrine as an exception to the warrant requirement. Although the Supreme Court in Cady recognized law enforcement's "community caretaking functions" in the context of an automobile search, the court did not suggest that community-caretaking responsibilities constituted a new exception to the warrant requirement that would justify the warrantless search of a home. The U.S. Supreme Court has never spoken of a community-caretaking exception to the warrant requirement that would allow the warrantless entry of a home absent some exigency.
The New Jersey Supreme Court has applied the community-caretaking doctrine outside of the automobile-impoundment context. But when it has done so to justify a warrantless entry or search, the factual scenarios involved exigent circumstances — circumstances requiring immediate police action. Without the presence of consent or some species of exigent circumstances, the community-caretaking doctrine is not a basis for the warrantless entry into and search of a home.
The U.S. Courts of Appeals have split on whether the community-caretaking doctrine can justify a warrantless search of a home, but no circuit court suggests that the warrantless entry of a home is permissible in the absence of some form of exigency.
In this case, the trial court applied the correct legal standard and sufficient credible evidence in the record supports its decision. The police did not have an objectively reasonable basis to believe that an emergency threatening life or limb justified the warrantless entry into Vargas' apartment. The Appellate Division erred by concluding that the community-caretaking doctrine justified the warrantless search of Vargas' home, even in the absence of a "compelling need for immediate action." The evidence must be suppressed.
Because the warrantless entry and search and seizure in this case violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey State Constitution, the court reverses the Appellate Division and reinstates the trial court's suppression order.
Justice Patterson, dissenting, does not consider the constraints that the majority imposes on law enforcement necessary to protect against unreasonable search and seizure. She considers the search in this case to be consistent with constitutional standards, and would affirm the Appellate Division panel's decision.
Chief Justice Rabner, Justices LaVecchia and Hoens, and Judges Rodríguez and Cuff, both temporarily assigned, join in Justice Albin's opinion. Justice Patterson filed a separate, dissenting opinion.
New Jersey Law Journal March 20, 2013
JUSTICES TO CONSIDER STANDARDS FOR SENDING CARELESS DRIVERS TO JAIL
The Supreme Court has agreed to decide what standards should govern when deciding if a defendant convicted of careless driving should be given a jail sentence. How the court rules in State v. Palma, A-41-12, will determine whether a driver was properly ordered jailed for fatally striking a pedestrian. The court also agreed on Jan. 30, in State v. Kates, A-40-12, to hear whether a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to the counsel of his choice was impacted by a judge's improper denial of a continuance to hire a private attorney.
Link to article
For additional information regarding your traffic and muncipal court questions, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit the website www.simonattorneys.com
[04/02/2012 - 3:14 P.M.] This morning, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a New Jersey case that people who are arrested for traffic violations and petty criminal offenses can lawfully be subject to strip searches in county jails. A syllabus of this opinion is printed below.
Petitioner was arrested during a traffic stop by a New Jersey state trooper who checked a statewide computer database and found a bench warrant issued for petitioner’s arrest after he failed to appear at a hearing to enforce a fine. He was initially detained in the Burlington County Detention Center and later in the Essex County Correctional Facility, but was released once it was determined that the fine had been paid. At the first jail, petitioner, like every incoming detainee, had to shower with a delousing agent and was checked for scars, marks, gang tattoos, and contraband as he disrobed. Petitioner claims that he also had to open his mouth, lift his tongue, hold out his arms, turn around, and lift his genitals. At the second jail, petitioner, like other arriving detainees, had to remove his clothing while an officer looked for body markings, wounds, and contraband; had an officer look at his ears, nose, mouth, hair, scalp, fingers, hands, armpits, and other body openings; had a mandatory shower; and had his clothes examined. Petitioner claims that he was also required to lift his genitals, turn around, and cough while squatting. He filed a 42 U. S. C. §1983 action in the Federal District Court against the government entities that ran the jails and other defendants, alleging Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations, and arguing that persons arrested for minor offenses cannot be subjected to invasive searches unless prison officials have reason to suspect concealment of weapons, drugs, or other contraband. The court granted him summary judgment, ruling that “strip-searching” nonindictable offenders without reasonable suspicion violates the Fourth Amendment . The Third Circuit reversed.
Held: The judgment is affirmed.
621 F. 3d 296, affirmed.
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV, concluding that the search procedures at the county jails struck a reasonable balance between inmate privacy and the needs of the institutions, and thus the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment s do not require adoption of the framework and rules petitioner pro- poses. Pp. 5−18, 19.
(a) Maintaining safety and order at detention centers requires the expertise of correctional officials, who must have substantial discretion to devise reasonable solutions to problems. A regulation impinging on an inmate’s constitutional rights must be upheld “if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78 . This Court, in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U. S. 520 , upheld a rule requiring pretrial detainees in federal correctional facilities “to expose their body cavities for visual inspection as a part of a strip search conducted after every contact visit with a person from outside the institution[s],” deferring to the judgment of correctional officials that the inspections served not only to discover but also to deter the smuggling of weapons, drugs, and other prohibited items. In Block v. Rutherford, 468 U. S. 576 −587, the Court upheld a general ban on contact visits in a county jail, noting the smuggling threat posed by such visits and the difficulty of carving out exceptions for certain detainees. The Court, in Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U. S. 517 −523, also recognized that deterring the possession of contraband depends in part on the ability to conduct searches without predictable exceptions when it upheld the constitutionality of random searches of inmate lockers and cells even without suspicion that an inmate is concealing a prohibited item. These cases establish that correctional officials must be permitted to devise reasonable search policies to detect and deter the possession of contraband in their facilities, and that “in the absence of substantial evidence in the record to indicate that the officials have exaggerated their response to these considerations courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such matters,” Block, supra, at 584–585.
Persons arrested for minor offenses may be among the detainees to be processed at jails. See Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U. S. 318 . Pp. 5−9.
(b) The question here is whether undoubted security imperatives involved in jail supervision override the assertion that some detainees must be exempt from the invasive search procedures at issue absent reasonable suspicion of a concealed weapon or other contraband. Correctional officials have a significant interest in conducting a thorough search as a standard part of the intake process. The admission of new inmates creates risks for staff, the existing detainee population, and the new detainees themselves. Officials therefore must screen for contagious infections and for wounds or injuries requiring immediate medical attention. It may be difficult to identify and treat medical problems until detainees remove their clothes for a visual inspection. Jails and prisons also face potential gang violence, giving them reasonable justification for a visual inspection of detainees for signs of gang affiliation as part of the intake process. Additionally, correctional officials have to detect weapons, drugs, alcohol, and other prohibited items new detainees may possess. Drugs can make inmates aggressive toward officers or each other, and drug trading can lead to violent confrontations. Contraband has value in a jail’s culture and underground economy, and competition for scarce goods can lead to violence, extortion, and disorder. Pp. 9−13.
(c) Petitioner’s proposal―that new detainees not arrested for serious crimes or for offenses involving weapons or drugs be exempt from invasive searches unless they give officers a particular reason to suspect them of hiding contraband―is unworkable. The seriousness of an offense is a poor predictor of who has contraband, and it would be difficult to determine whether individual detainees fall within the proposed exemption. Even persons arrested for a minor offense may be coerced by others into concealing contraband. Exempting people arrested for minor offenses from a standard search protocol thus may put them at greater risk and result in more contraband being brought into the detention facility.
It also may be difficult to classify inmates by their current and prior offenses before the intake search. Jail officials know little at the outset about an arrestee, who may be carrying a false ID or lie about his identity. The officers conducting an initial search often do not have access to criminal history records. And those records can be inaccurate or incomplete. Even with accurate information, officers would encounter serious implementation difficulties. They would be required to determine quickly whether any underlying offenses were serious enough to authorize the more invasive search protocol. Other possible classifications based on characteristics of individual detainees also might prove to be unworkable or even give rise to charges of discriminatory application. To avoid liability, officers might be inclined not to conduct a thorough search in any close case, thus creating unnecessary risk for the entire jail population. While the restrictions petitioner suggests would limit the intrusion on the privacy of some detainees, it would be at the risk of increased danger to everyone in the facility, including the less serious offenders. The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment s do not require adoption of the proposed framework. Pp. 13−18, 19.
Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV. Roberts, C. J., and Scalia and Alito, JJ., joined that opinion in full, and Thomas, J., joined as to all but Part IV. Roberts, C. J., and Alito, J., filed concurring opinions. Breyer, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined.
Link to article
Should you require legal services for a traffic stop or criminal charges, call today for your free consultation. 800-709-1131 or visit our website to request additional information www.simonattorneys.com
Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday called for legislation to expand the state's successful statewide drug court program by authorizing judges to make participation mandatory. He asked for a measure that would require program officials to more vigorously screen offenders for eligibility, and mandate that program information be provided to anyone charged with a second- or third-degree nonviolent offense. The measure would allow courts to order clinical assessments of offenders to determine their suitability for drug court and require that pre-sentencing reports include drug-addiction information and recommendations. Addicts slated for incarceration and eligible for participation would be sentenced to the program regardless of whether they want to enter it or not.
CHRISTIE PROPOSES MAKING DRUG COURT MANDATORY FOR SELECTED OFFENDERS
For additional information if you were charged with possession or regarding a drug court program, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit the website simonattorneys.com
How we helped our client with criminal charges
By Larry Hardcastle, Esq.
A client in Essex County was arrested for Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance (“CDS”) and Possession of a CDS in a Motor Vehicle. The drug the client possessed was Heroin. To make matters worse, it was the client’s third Possession of a CDS charge. Possessing Heroin in New Jersey is a crime in the third degree, which exposed my client to up to 5 years in prison, a fine of up to $15,000.00, and 6 months loss of license. Possessing a CDS in a motor vehicle comes with a fine and a two year license suspension. My client was terrified of the consequences. Through tough and direct negotiations with the prosecutor, I was able to negotiate a very favorable outcome for my client: No prison time, no loss of driving privileges, and a $200.00 fine.
Call today for representation of your criminal matter. 800-709-1131
or visit the website: http://www.simonattorneys.com/possession/
The Justice Department is pitching a proposal that would retroactively apply crack sentencing laws to thousands of offenders whose conduct occurred before new guidelines took effect reducing sentences for many inmates. Last August, President Obama signed into law a measure that reduced the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, a move Justice officials supported. On Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer in separate remarks said the department favors going one step further—the retroactive application of that guideline to offenders whose conduct occurred before August. Such a move could benefit more than 12,000 prisoners.
For additional information regarding your individual legal questions, please call the office for your free consultation at 800-709-1131 or visit our website at simonattorneys.com