NJ court rules that knock-and-announce rule violations will require evidence to be suppressed

Professional Development

The recent Appellate Division ruling in State v. Caronna states that when police flagrantly violate a knock-and-announce requirement in a search warrant, the enhanced protections provided under our New Jersey Constitution will require the suppression of any evidence seized.

In this case, a detective requested and obtained a warrant that required the police to knock and announce their presence before entering an apartment. According to the court, “[w]ithout any exigency or justification, and not knowing who was in the apartment, they did not knock on the front door and announce their presence. They simply opened the unlocked door and, in a normal tone, said, ‘Hello.’ [A defendant] who was in an upstairs bedroom and naked from the waist down, responded by saying ‘Babe?’ The police remained silent, climbed the stairs, entered her bedroom, and said, ‘How you doing, what’s going on?’ Then for the first time, they announced they were police and were there to search the apartment.”

The state and the defense agreed that the police acted unconstitutionally by inexplicably ignoring the warrant’s mandate to knock and announce. However, they disagreed on the remedy.

The primary legal question answered by the Appellate Court in this opinion is whether New Jersey’s increased state constitutional safeguards support suppression of the evidence under the circumstances.

The court was firm in its opinion, stating that “[c]ompliance with a knock-and-announce warrant requirement is a critical predicate for a reasonable search under our State Constitution. It is simply objectively unreasonable — without justification — for police to ignore a knock and-announce requirement contained in a warrant that they requested and obtained. Ignoring the requirement contravenes the search and seizure rights of New Jersey residents.”

In its opinion, the court did recognize that under certain circumstances, the requirement to knock and announce is not absolute, and, the court stated, “[o]ur holding does not change that.”

The court also noted the following in its opinion:

In general, reasons to ignore the knock-and-announce requirement are:

  1. exigent circumstances; or
  2. officers have demonstrated a reasonable, particularized suspicion that a no-knock entry is required to:

a. prevent destruction of evidence;

b. protect the officer’s safety; or

c. effectuate an arrest or seizure of evidence. See State v. Robinson, 200 N.J. 1, 14 (2009).

The requirement to knock and announce does not apply if — unlike here — police execute a warrant for the search of an unoccupied residence. See State v. Bilancio, 318 N.J. Super. 408, 410 (App. Div. 1999).