Evangeline James reported a leak in the kitchen ceiling of her apartment to her landlord. The next day her landlord and a plumber entered the apartment when no one was home to inspect the leak. Because the pipes went to the rear of the apartment, the plumber went into the back bedroom to determine where the leak was coming from. In the bedroom, he saw drugs on the nightstand and in an open drawer. Police were called and the responding officer entered the apartment without a warrant. Police saw the drugs and a small scale. Soon after, Evangeline’s boyfriend arrived and signed a consent to search and police further discovered a loaded handgun, bullets and drug paraphernalia.
Both Evangeline and her boyfriend, Ricky Wright, were indicted on drugs and weapons charges. They moved to supress the evidence because of the lack of a warrant. The trial court relying on the doctrine of third party intervention found that the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment and the Appellate Division in State v. Wright affirmed. The doctrine of third party intervention or private search applies when private actors search and discover contraband, contact law enforcement and give te items to the police or the police replicate the search. It is an exception to the warrant requirement.
The Supreme Court said the residents ran the risk of allowing a private actor into their home who could tell police what he or she saw. Police could then use that information to apply for a warrant. The Court further stated that if the scope of the police search did not exceed that of the private actors, they did not need a warrant. The Court did not apply private search doctrine to a home since both the United States Supreme Court nor the New Jersey Supreme Court had never done so. But the real problem for Defendants in this case was the consent to search. While the initial search may have been illegal having potentially exceeded the private search, the consent search would have revealed the illegal items as part of inevitable discovery doctrine.
What’s the defense attorney lesson and advise from this case? NEVER CONSENT TO A SEARCH OF YOUR HOME OR CAR! NEVER LEAVE DRUGS OUT IN PLAINVIEW WHEN THE LANDLORD AND PLUMBER ARE COMING TO INSPECT A LEAK!