Muni-mail – Supremes Uphold “Animal House” Ruling – State v. Kaltner

 [05/01/12 – 3:39 pm] This morning, in a per curiam decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the Appellate Division holding in the so-called “Animal House” case of State v. Kaltner. [State v. Kaltner, 420 NJ Super. 524 (App. Div. 2011)] In Kaltner, the police responded to the scene of a wild, raucus college party at a residence. In an effort to locate a responsible person at the party, one of the investigating officers travelled to the third floor of the structure where he spied certain controlled substances that ultimately resulted in the defendant’s arrest. Both the trial court and Appellate Division ruled that the search by the police on the third floor had been unreasonable and ordered suppression of the seized evidence.

Analysis: There are several critically important legal issues that flow from the affirmation of this Appellate Division holding.

1. By affiriming this holding, the Supreme Court gave no stamp of approval to the use of the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement in the context of residential searches. Apart from Kaltner, only one prior decision from the Appellate Division recognized this exception outside of the motor vehicle context [State v. Witczak, 421 NJ Super. 180 (App. Div. 2011)]. The New Jersey Supreme Court indirectly approved it in an older case, State v. Bogan, 200 NJ 61 (2009).

2. The holding in this case draws attention to the decision by the Court (as initially announced by the Appellate Division in Witczak, supra) to depart from IVth Amendment jurisprudence expressed by the Third Circuit [Ray v. Township of Warren, 626 F. 3rd 170 (2010)] which holds that since the United States Supreme Court has never ruled that the community caretaking exception applies outside the area of automobile searches, this exception does not apply to the search of a residence. Accordingly, federal and state law in this circuit are markedly different on this issue, a fact that may be used in future cases by law enforcement in deciding where to prosecute a case that violates both state and federal law.

Download a copy of State v. Kaltner.

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