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New Jersey Supreme Court Reaffirms Right To Privacy and the Extent of Third-Party Consent, Part 2

Last time, we discussed the recent unanimous ruling in State v. Cushing, wherein the New Jersey Supreme Court said that the daughter of an elderly Bridgewater woman did not have the power to allow the police to search the bedroom of her adult nephew, who had lived in the house for over twenty years. The State would not be permitted to use the evidence it obtained to prosecute the defendant, Michael Cushing, after finding 16 marijuana plants growing in his bedroom closet, unless it had a separate justification for obtaining the warrant. This was because there was a reasonable expectation of privacy and the person who gave consent did not have authority to give consent. The court’s ruling protects a defendant’s room inside a house from police search and seizure without a warrant or the proper consent.

In issuing its opinion, the Court also reaffirmed an earlier decision it had reached in State v. Suazo. Although Suazo was decided in 1993, the fact that it was cited by Cushing means that many of the same standards are still applicable today. Suazo is especially important because it establishes when a person can give consent to a police officer to search something that belongs to somebody else, like a bag.

State v. Suazo – Facts

Under the facts of Suazo, the police pulled over the driver of a vehicle, Ramon Suazo, who was transporting a companion whom he did not know very well, defendant Nelson Hoyer. Suazo consented to have the police officer search his vehicle. In the trunk, the officer found a bag that Hoyer said belonged to him. Nevertheless, the officer opened the bag and found four brown packages containing cocaine inside.

After defendant Hoyer was indicted for possession of a controlled dangerous substance, he filed a motion to suppress the evidence, contending that Suazo’s consent to search the vehicle could not apply to the bag he owned.

On appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the police officer’s warrantless search of Hoyer’s bag was impermissible, because it was unreasonable for the police officer to believe that Suazo had the authority to consent to a search of the bag. Specifically, although Suazo had authority to consent to the search of the car, defendant Hoyer said the closed bag was his, and not something owned by or shared with Suazo.

A driver has control of a vehicle and can generally consent to the search of vehicle itself. However, a police officer can only conduct a warrantless search of a closed object inside the vehicle, like a backpack or purse, when the circumstances would reasonably lead the police officer to believe that consent to search was given by a third-party person who has authority to consent to the search.

Furthermore, if the passenger of a vehicle does not consent or object to the search, silence may be viewed as consent, but only if it is clear that the defendant was aware of his or her right to object to the search of the personal belonging.

State v. Shaw and the Reapplication of State v. Suazo

Just last month, the New Jersey Appellate Division again reaffirmed Suazo in the case of State v. Shaw. Although the defendant in Shaw ultimately lost his motion to keep out the evidence found in a tote bag carried in the back of a vehicle he was in, the court determined that consent was not needed for the search, because no one in the vehicle claimed ownership of the bag or objected to its search.

Therefore, New Jersey courts continue to uphold a defendant’s right to exclude illegally obtained evidence at trial. If you or someone you know is arrested and charged with a crime based on a police search and seizure, it is important that you consult with an experienced attorney who will be best prepared to argue to enforce your constitutional rights and may be able to have the charges against your dropped completely.

New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyer Tom Chaves Protects Defendants’ Rights

If you are arrested or charged with a crime in New Jersey, you are entitled to certain rights under State and Federal laws, including the New Jersey Constitution. Experienced New Jersey Criminal lawyer Tom Chaves will help you fight for those rights and always strives to have your charges dismissed completely. If the charges against you cannot be dismissed, we will fight to have them downgraded. An experienced criminal attorney can significantly improve your chances of avoiding a conviction. For a free consultation, call us at 908-256-3039 or contact us online today. We represent individuals with criminal charges in Somerset County, Hunterdon County, Middlesex County and Union County.

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