Warrantless Home Entries: Arrestee vs. Detainee

by | Mar 17, 2017 | Blog, Criminal Law, New Jersey, Warrants

Warrantless Home EntryThe Legette Court held that Chrisman and Bruzzese do not support warrantless entries into detainees’ homes; they apply only to cases in which a suspect has been arrested prior to the officer’s entry into the home. Here, because the State failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the warrantless entry fell within a recognized exception to the warrant requirement, the entry was illegal and the evidence obtained as a result of that entry should have been suppressed.

In Chrisman, the United States Supreme Court concluded that it was valid for an officer to accompany a college student found carrying a bottle of gin into his dormitory room to retrieve identification. The Court found that the officer had placed the student under lawful arrest; therefore, “the officer had a right to remain literally at the student’s elbow at all times. In reaching this holding, the Court recognized that every arrest poses a risk of danger to the arresting officer.

In Bruzzese, this Court adopted the Chrisman rule as the law of New Jersey. Officers in Bruzzese went to the defendant’s house and stated that they intended to bring him in for an outstanding warrant. The Court held that it was permissible for the officers to follow the defendant into his room while he retrieved a jacket and shoes. The Court reasoned that “the privacy rights of an individual who is placed under lawful arrest are diminished,” while “the arresting police officer is entitled to the protection he or she would receive under this rule.”

The holdings in both Chrisman and Bruzzese were expressly contingent on the fact that the defendants in those cases had been placed under arrest prior to the officer’s entry into the residence. Chrisman and Bruzzese apply only when a suspect has been arrested due to the diminished expectation of privacy of an individual under arrest. Because Legette was not an arrestee but rather a detainee, Chrisman and Bruzzese are not directly on point.

This subtle distinction between being an “arrestee” and a “detainee” is the difference between a lengthy prison term and a dismissal for Legette. Unfortunately for the accused, most have to spend years in prison waiting for their cases like this to be reversed on appeal.