Lack of Exigent Circumstances Invalidates Search – State v. Dunlap

State v. Dunlap, decided today by the New Jersey Supreme Court, is a companion case to the landmark decision in State v. Eckel, also decided today. The facts of the case involve the arrest of a defendant as part of a drug investigation. Ten police officers participated in the arrest. Distribution levels of CDS and a firearm were recovered from the defendant’s vehicle. The State argued two independent theories to support the search of the defendant’s automobile: a search incident to the defendant’s arrest and the automobile exception.

The Supreme Court rejected the search incident to an arrest argument based upon its ruling in the Eckel case. With respect to the automobile exception, the Justices found that although there was probable cause to suspect that contraband would be in the vehicle, the presence of 10 officers at the scene of the arrest vitiated the second requirement of this exception to the warrant requirement: exigent circumstances.

The importance of the Dunlap decision is related to the exigent circumstances issue. It may be the first published case in New Jersey where a court of appellate authority has found that the police lacked exigent circumstances. Note how the Justices suggest that the police could have requested a search warrant in this case, or simply impounded the vehicle.

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