Cops can search, leave, come back & search some more – State v. Finesmith

In yesterday’s decision from the Appellate Division in State v. Finesmith, the Appellate Division adopted a new rule of procedure for police agencies that conduct searches under the authority of a search warrant. The new procedure, known in federal law as the “reasonable continuation doctrine” permits the police to temporarily suspend a residential search undertake through the authority of a search warrant and later return to the scene and re-enter the residence for the purpose of continuing the search for evidence. In order to do this, the police must establish that the second search was a continuation of the original search and that the subsequent decision to conduct a second entry was reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.

The facts before the Court in Finesmith involve a search under a warrant where the police sought criminal evidence contained on a laptop computer. The police suspended the initial search when they could not locate the computer. However, the police later developed additional information as to where the laptop was located. With this new information in hand, the police returned to the residence two hours later, re-entered and secured the laptop.

Although the reasonable continuation doctrine has been in the federal law for many years, the opinion in Finesmith marks the first time it has been authorized under New Jersey state law.

Download copy of State v. Finesmith.

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