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Do Not Smoke a Joint While Answering Your Door

Opening the front door to police officers while smoking a marijuana cigarette and then tossing the cigarette back into the house and attempting to close the door can satisfy an exception to 4th Amendment and the New Jersey Constitution’s prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure.

According to State v. Walker, plain clothes police officers arrived at Rashad Walker’s apartment in Newark on the basis of a tip by an informant that Walker was selling drugs from his home. He answered the door while smoking a joint, but when he realized he was speaking to police he tossed his joint back into the apartment and tried to close the door. State v. Walker, 2013 WL 1442179.

One of the officers stopped the door from closing and the rest of the officers stepped inside the apartment. Walker was arrested and searched while standing in his living room. Looking around, the officers found various forms of drugs as well as drug paraphernalia. He was charged with, and later convicted of, two counts of third-degree possession of controlled distributed substances (CDS) with intent to distribute and other charges.

Walker challenged his conviction arguing that the police violated the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article I of the N.J. Constitution, arresting him without a warrant in his home. The State defended the conviction, asserting that the tip that lead police to the apartment qualified as probable cause.

“Warrantless home arrests are prohibited ‘absent probable cause and exigent circumstances,’” according to the Court.

Here, the Court found that probable cause for arrest was satisfied, not by the tip, but by the officers’ observation of Walker smoking a marijuana cigarette as he answered the door. The exigent circumstances requirement was satisfied when Walker threw his joint and ran back into the apartment as this constituted an attempt to flee and officers were “compelled to act to prevent defendant from disposing of the marijuana cigarette, or eluding the officers.”

This satisfaction of the exigent circumstances requirement “justified a limited entry necessary to arrest defendant…” Then, once the police were inside, because all of the drugs and paraphernalia were in plain view, they were subject to seizure by the police too.

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