A Guide to Search Warrants in New Jersey
The Basics of New Jersey Search Warrants
If the police believe you have evidence of a crime or contraband, such as illegal drugs, drug paraphernalia, or illegal firearms, they cannot simply barge into your house and grab what they want, as you may have seen on television. Unless you provide your consent to a search, the search is incident to an arrest, or some viable legal exception to the warrant requirement has been satisfied, a lawful search must be conducted in accordance with a search warrant. Even with a search warrant, law enforcement officials must comply with a myriad of rules and procedural regulations when searching your person or property in New Jersey. If police violate any of these requirements under the law, it may provide grounds to suppress evidence and even have your criminal charges dismissed.
To ensure that you fully comprehend the law applicable to search warrants in New Jersey, and the defense strategies that may be used to undermine the validity of a search resulting in criminal charges, our knowledgeable New Jersey criminal defense lawyers will address many of the important subjects involving search warrants. If you would like to discuss a specific criminal case involving search and seizure in NJ, we encourage you to contact us anytime at (201)-556-1570 for a free consultation. With convenient offices throughout the state, we regularly defend clients facing criminal and domestic violence charges in Bergen County, Morris County, Essex County, Passaic County, Monmouth County, and Union County.
You can also learn more about bench and arrest warrants, how to handle an out of state warrant for your arrest, and why your car may be towed and searched in New Jersey, on our corresponding pages.
How is a Search Warrant Obtained in New Jersey?
To get a legal search warrant, law enforcement officers must convince an unbiased judge, by their sworn written or oral affidavit, that certain facts lead them to believe that a crime has occurred, and specific evidence of crime is in an identified location. If the judge is convinced by credible proof that probable cause for a search warrant exists, they will issue the warrant naming the person, place, property and time for the search in question.
How is a Search Warrant Executed in NJ?
The police must search only the people and property identified during the hours indicated in the warrant (unless there is grounds for a warrant to be executed day or night), and they may only seize the specific property described in the warrant, unless they find other evidence in plain view, are given evidence from someone else (as is often the case after a reported incident of domestic violence), are protecting themselves (by retrieving weapons at the scene or on the person), or evidence is about to be destroyed during their search (such as drugs that a suspect is about to flush down the toilet).
To conduct the search, the officers must knock and identify themselves and their reason for being there, unless knocking would be dangerous or useless, meaning people may be hurt or evidence destroyed. After giving a reasonable time to respond and after peacefully or forcibly entering, they must give the person named in the search warrant a copy of the warrant or notification of its contents, advise them of their Miranda rights before questioning them, and give them a receipt for items they take or, if the named person is not there, leave the receipt with anyone at the searched location.
What is Common Evidence Resulting in a Search in NJ?
A search warrant may be requested and obtained for a variety of purposes. However, the judge issuing the warrant must find probable cause to believe that the search will result in the retrieval of evidence related to a crime. Some of the most common items involved in criminal cases arising from searches include:
- Stolen property,
- Evidence suggesting that a crime already occurred or that a specific individual has committed a crime,
- Illegal or unlawfully possessed controlled dangerous substances,
- Objects used during the commission of a crime,
- Illegal handguns and other unlawfully possessed weapons,
- Items in the possession of a person who is believed to be soon to commit a crime,
- Evidence in the possession of an individual who allegedly intends to hide or destroy it, or otherwise obstruct justice, or hinder their own or someone else’s apprehension or prosecution,
- If the property in question is child pornography
Do Police Always Need a Warrant to Search in New Jersey?
No, not always. If you freely consent to a search of your person, property or vehicle, the police do not have to get a warrant. The police can also search you and your immediate surroundings without a warrant during an arrest. So, if you are arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, your car may be searched at the scene of the arrest, or anytime the police have probable cause to suspect that a vehicle holds illegal substances, except for locked trunks. A warrantless search is likewise justifiable when necessary under emergency conditions, like chasing down an escaping criminal (which often leads to charges for eluding police), protecting the safety of officers and the public, and preserving evidence about to be destroyed. If there is probable cause to believe that something like a car contains evidence of a crime, such as drugs, seeing the drugs or drug paraphernalia in plain view, or smelling the odor of marijuana, can be used as justification to conduct a search without a warrant. An officer may also frisk a person involved in an alleged crime, or about to engage in a crime, for weapons or other criminal evidence.
Motions to Suppress Evidence from Unlawful Searches in NJ
Just because an officer has a search warrant does not mean the search and seizure of your property is legal. Anyone whose property or person has been searched, with or without a warrant, may challenge a search and seizure that was unlawful. Although search warrants and their supporting affidavits are confidential, a criminal defendant or anyone whose property or person has been searched may obtain copies of the warrant and likewise, object to the search by filing a motion to suppress the evidence and return the illegally seized property. The objecting party must timely notify the prosecutor in the court where the action is filed and successfully argue to the court that the search is improper, and any evidence seized in the improper search and seizure should not be allowed to be used against them in the court proceedings.
The prosecutor’s office must respond to a motion to suppress evidence in a timely manner as well, defending the legitimacy of the warrant or warrantless search and seizure. If the officers lied under oath or did not present enough evidence to show probable cause for the search warrant, the search may be unlawful and the motion to suppress granted. Likewise, if the officers did not follow the rules of executing the search warrant, or without justification under any of the exceptions for having a warrant, the search may also be considered unlawful. If a motion to suppress is successfully argued, the seized property is returned to the defendant or other moving party and the evidence is not allowed to be used in any court case as evidence to prove a crime against the party who filed the motion. In cases involving suppression of evidence, the ruling may also be appealed by either side.
Questions about Search Warrant in a Criminal Case in New Jersey?
While courts often give officers leeway in obtaining warrants and conducting searches, judges must weigh the important privacy and notice protections under the U.S. Constitution, namely, the Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the New Jersey Constitution Article I, Section 7, against the necessities of crime prevention and safety. Each search and seizure incident in NJ has unique facts and circumstances that should be closely examined by a New Jersey criminal defense attorney familiar with the laws and cases defining legal and illegal searches.
If you believe your property was taken or you have been charged with a crime after a search that you suspect was illegal in New Jersey, contact the criminal lawyers at The Tormey Law Firm, who can examine the circumstances, make an aggressive defense challenge, and preserve your rights. You can reach us online or by calling (201)-556-1570 for a free consultation. We are also available to set up an appointment to review your case in Middlesex County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Warren County, Bergen County, or another county in New Jersey.