Plain View and Lawful Vantage Points (Part 3)

by | Jan 10, 2021 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued in relevant part: The Appellate Division reversed. 461 N.J. Super. 1, 20 (App. Div. 2019). The court explained that, “to satisfy the plain view doctrine when this case was decided, the State was required to establish: 1) a police officer was ‘lawfully in the viewing area’; 2) the officer ‘discovered the evidence “inadvertently”’; and 3) it was “‘immediately apparent’ to the police that the items in plain view were evidence of a crime, contraband, or otherwise subject to seizure.” Id. at 11 (quoting State v. Mann, 203 N.J. 328, 341 (2010)). The court observed that the dispositive issue was thus “whether Estevez had a lawful right to be in the second-floor hallway where he initially smelled the marijuana that led to his observations, defendant’s arrest, and the issuance of the warrant prompting the seizure of the gun.” Ibid.

To decide whether “Estevez was lawfully in that viewing area,” the court explained that it had to “determine whether defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the common hallway, such that he is entitled to the protections of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution.” Id. at 11-12. 3 Ultimately, the Appellate Division concluded that because the police did not have a warrant, and the State failed to establish that the common areas of the Spring Street dwelling were open to the public, the officers’ second entry that led to defendant’s arrest and the seizure of the marijuana and gun was constitutionally impermissible. Therefore, the plain view doctrine does not justify the government’s warrantless search. Thus, the State failed to carry its burden of establishing that an exception to the warrant requirement justified the entry into the home. Based on the facts of this case, the Court affirms the judgment of the Appellate Division substantially for the reasons expressed in that court’s opinion.

Recently confirmed Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis was my law school classmate at Rutgers. She was part of the per curiam opinion in this case. Justice Fernandez-Vina was the one justice who did not participate in this case.