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Law School Case Brief

State v. Walker - 213 N.J. 281, 62 A.3d 897 (2013)

Rule:

Despite the existence of probable cause to arrest a defendant, a showing of exigent circumstances is required in order to comply with the Fourth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. IV; specifically, the exigencies of the situation must make a warrantless home arrest imperative. This exception only applies when the exigencies of the situation make the needs of law enforcement so compelling that a warrantless search is objectively reasonable. Consequently, the application of the doctrine of exigent circumstances demands a fact-sensitive, objective analysis. In determining whether exigency exists, courts consider many factors, including the degree of urgency and the amount of time necessary to obtain a warrant; the reasonable belief that the evidence was about to be lost, destroyed, or removed from the scene; the severity or seriousness of the offense involved; the possibility that a suspect was armed or dangerous; and the strength or weakness of the underlying probable cause determination. Exigent circumstances include the need to apprehend and subdue an armed felon who enters a residence when, under hot pursuit, he flees from law enforcement, and the potential destruction of evidence.

Facts:

This criminal appeal arises from a warrantless entry into Defendant Rashad Walker's apartment, by undercover police officers who saw Defendant smoking a marijuana cigarette during a brief interaction with him, while the apartment door was open. Defendant's motion to suppress evidence of possession of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana was denied. He entered into a plea agreement with the State to plead guilty to two counts of third-degree possession of controlled dangerous substances (CDS) with the intent to distribute, and one count of third-degree possession of CDS with the intent to distribute while within 500 feet of public housing. The judge imposed three six-year extended terms, subject to a three-year period of parole ineligibility, to be served concurrently.

Walker appealed the denial of his motion to suppress and his sentence. The Appellate Division, after concluding that the circumstances did not provide a sufficient basis for the officers' warrantless entry, reversed the denial of Walker’s motion to suppress, vacated the conviction, and remanded the matter to the Law Division for further proceedings. The State sought further appellate review.

Issue:

Did the appellate court err in holding that the circumstances did not provide a sufficient basis for the officers' warrantless entry?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of New Jersey disagreed with the appellate court. Once the officers saw Walker smoking a marijuana cigarette in violation of N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-10(a)(4), they had probable cause to arrest him. Under the New Jersey and federal Constitutions, N.J. Const. art. I, para. 7, and U.S. Const. amend. IV, probable cause and exigent circumstances justified the warrantless entry into Walker’s apartment and the seizure of the marijuana cigarette and all the CDs found there.

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