Attenuation and the Exclusionary Rule (Part 2)

by | Nov 21, 2018 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The majority continued: Defendant was charged with an act that would have constituted second-degree robbery had he been an adult at the time. He filed a motion to suppress the phone. The court held that because defendant’s brother retrieved the phone, and because he did not act as an agent of the officers, defendant could not bring a constitutional claim to challenge the seizure of the phone. Therefore, the court denied defendant’s suppression motion.

The Appellate Division affirmed, concluding that the officers had probable cause to search and faced exigent circumstances, which justified their warrantless entry into defendant’s home. The panel stated that “the technology that led police to defendant’s home provided some of the exigency supporting their entry” and concluded that the record supported a finding that the hot pursuit exception to the warrant requirement rendered the officers’ action constitutional.  The panel found that because defendant’s brother, a non-state actor, uncovered the phone, defendant’s mother’s consent was not significant to the constitutional analysis of this search.

The New Jersey Supreme Court granted certification. The majority held that neither exigency nor the hot pursuit doctrine justified the officers’ warrantless entry here.  However, defendant’s brother’s actions did not constitute state action and were sufficiently attenuated from the unlawful police conduct to preclude application of the exclusionary rule to the evidence.

A warrantless entry into a home is presumptively invalid unless the State can show that it falls within one of the specific, delineated exceptions to the general warrant requirement. Evidence found pursuant to a warrantless search not justified by an exception to the warrant requirement is subject to suppression under the exclusionary rule. However, the exclusionary rule applies to preclude the admission of evidence only when such evidence is suitably linked to the police misconduct. Therefore, when evidence is acquired by constitutionally valid means after initial unconstitutional action by law enforcement, courts must consider whether the exclusionary rule is applicable. Such evidence is admissible when the connection between the unconstitutional police action and the secured evidence becomes so attenuated as to dissipate the taint from the unlawful conduct.

The fact that the police had the juvenile’s mother sign a consent to search form suggests that they might have been concerned with the evidence being suppressed.  If this were clear case of “hot pursuit” or if there was clearly a lack of state action, the police would not have bothered to obtain written consent.