On January 12, 2017, in the case of State v. James Legette, Justice Fernandez-Vina, J., wrote for a six to one majority of the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Court considered whether, during an investigatory stop, it is permissible for a police officer to follow suspects into their homes and seize evidence.
When an officer was called to investigate a noise complaint at an apartment complex, he saw defendant James L. Legette standing on a common porch. As the officer approached, Legette opened the door to that area partway. The officer smelled burnt marijuana, stepped onto the porch, and introduced himself as a police officer. Legette began to walk away. The officer stopped him and asked him for identification. When Legette offered to retrieve identification from his apartment, the officer said he would have to accompany Legette. Legette did not respond but continued to his apartment with the officer following. As they were walking, the officer noted a bulge in Legette’s sweatshirt.
Finding a way to get suspects to go into their homes for their identification, shoes, or additional clothing as a method that is commonly used for the police to gain access to a home without a warrant. Citizens would be much better off if they politely refused to get their identification or any additional clothes. The problem that many people encounter will be that armed officers are inherently intimidating and people think it would be suspicious to refuse to enter their own homes for clothing or an i.d. While it might be suspicious, such refusal does not give rise to probable cause, the legal standard for entering a private home either with or without a warrant. Therefore, refusal would not be a basis for the police to enter. This nuance is unfortunately lost on most people and that fact is often exploited by police who would otherwise have no lawful basis to enter a home without a warrant.