Warrantless Searches and Abandoned Property (Part 2)

by | Mar 12, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The New Jersey Supreme Court majority continued in relevant part: While other officers chased and arrested defendant, one officer secured and searched the suitcase at the entrance of the station, revealing the contraband. Defendant was charged with possessory offenses and resisting arrest. Defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence recovered from the warrantless search of the suitcase. The trial court granted the motion, reasoning that defendant did not flee police because he wanted to discard the suitcase or relinquish his interest in it. The trial court also rejected the State’s argument that the search incident to arrest exception applied. The State appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed, holding that defendant had abandoned the suitcase. The New Jersey Supreme Court granted leave to appeal.

Defendant’s possessory or ownership interest in the suitcase ceased when he fled police outside Penn Station and deliberately left his suitcase behind in a public place with no evidence of anyone else’s interest in the bag. Because the State has demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that the suitcase was abandoned, defendant is without standing to challenge its seizure and search.

When property is abandoned, a defendant has “no right to challenge the search or seizure of that property.” State v. Johnson, 193 N.J. 528, 548 (2008). Property is abandoned only if “(1) a person has either actual or constructive control or dominion over property; (2) he knowingly and voluntarily relinquishes any possessory or ownership interest in the property; and (3) there are no other apparent or known owners of the property.” State v. Carvajal, 202 N.J. 214, 225 (2010). The State bears the burden of proving that property was abandoned by a preponderance of the evidence.

A counterpoint to the majority’s analysis is that there was evidence of another person’s interest in the bag. The friend of the defendant that the defendant called out to take possession of the bag had an interest in it.