Police need warrants to search even in potentially dangerous situations, court rules

By MaryAnn Spoto

Police officers alerted to a potentially dangerous situation do not have the authority to search property without a warrant if there is no evidence of danger, the state Supreme Court ruled today.

Law enforcement officers usually have wider latitude for searches when they’re providing emergency aid or community care taking duties, but that right doesn’t extend to them when there is no sign of trouble, the court said.

The 5-1 decision came out of an appeal of charges filed against Shareff Edmonds after Carteret police found a .38-caliber handgun near the chair where he was sitting in his girlfriend’s house.

Acting on a 911 call, Roselle Park police received on Jan. 16, 2008, Carteret police went to the home of Edmonds’ girlfriend, Kamilah Richardson. The anonymous caller had told police his sister was being beaten by her boyfriend who had a gun.

When police arrived at Richardson’s apartment, there were no signs of an altercation and Richardson did not have any physical injuries. She resisted allowing police inside, but they searched the apartment and after searching Edmonds, found a gun under a pillow on the floor near the chair where he had been sitting.

The court said police were right in entering the home to ensure the safety of Richardson’s 11-year-old son, but after the frisk of Edmonds turned up nothing, police could not search the apartment without a warrant.

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