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Police Can Enter Area Surrounding Home Without Warrant As Long As Part of Legitimate Investigation

Laura Tepper’s troubles started when she continued driving past a school bus even though it was stopped with its red lights on. The bus driver went to the Hillsborough Police Department to report the license plate of the silver Honda, which was later determined to be driven by Tepper. State v. Tepper, 2013 WL 3984331.

Hillsborough Police went to the Tepper residence in Middlesex County to investigate. A police officer pulled up to the home and saw the Honda described by the bus driver parked nearby. The officer rang the doorbell and knocked on the front door multiple times but received no answer.

Seeing a light on in the back of the house, the officer walked around to the rear of the home and spotted a back sliding door open. As it was December and a string of robberies had occurred in the area within the last year, the officer grew suspicious.

He walked onto the deck, stuck his head in through the door and announced his presence, but still received no response. At this point he called for backup and when backup arrived both officers searched the house. No one was home, but marijuana was found in the basement.

Tepper was charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance with intent to distribute, but moved to suppress the evidence before trial saying it was unlawful for the officer to walk onto her lawn and deck without a search warrant. Superior Court in Somerset County denied the motion and it was appealed to the NJ Appellate Division.

On appeal the Court found that when the officer walked around to the back of the house and onto the deck without a warrant, there was no unlawful behavior on the part of the police because it was part of a legitimate investigation. Id. at 5.

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