NJ high court: Noise complaint didn’t justify search and arrests – ‘A high-crime area, does not mean… residents… have lesser constitutional protection’

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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) 02/05 — Police officers responding to a noise complaint at a motel weren’t justified in conducting warrant checks and physical searches of the room’s occupants, New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in dismissing weapons charges against two men who were in the room.

Neptune police arrested Deyvon Chisum and Keshown Woodard in 2014 after responding to reports of loud music in a room at the Crystal Inn Motel.

When they arrived, the woman who had rented the room agreed to lower the volume. The officers didn’t issue a summons for a noise violation, but checked the IDs of about 10 people in the room to see if any had outstanding warrants.

Chisum had an outstanding warrant and was arrested, and officers found a gun in his possession. A subsequent search found a gun on Woodard, who didn’t have any warrants. Both men pleaded guilty to a weapons charge.

A lower court ruled the officers were justified in conducting the checks and the searches in part because of safety concerns due to the motel’s reputation as a location where criminal activity took place. An appeals court upheld that ruling, and agreed with the state’s arguments the search was a legitimate outgrowth of the noise complaint.

In a unanimous ruling Tuesday, the Supreme Court disagreed and wrote the officers shouldn’t have detained and searched the room’s occupants after the noise complaint was resolved and no summons was issued.

“Because the officers exercised their own discretion and declined to issue a summons for a noise violation, they essentially concluded that the occupants of Room 221 were not engaging in any criminal activity,” Justice Faustino Fernandez-Vina wrote. “Moreover, there is no evidence in the record that any occupants in Room 221 were about to engage in some form of criminal activity, particularly once the noise was abated and the mission of the noise complaint was completed.”

Fernandez-Vina added “just because a location to which police officers are dispatched is a high-crime area, does not mean that the residents in that area have lesser constitutional protection from random stops.”


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Posted in: Appeals, Arrests, Civil Rights, Court Rulings, Crime & Criminals, Crime Prevention, Firearms, Judges, Police, Policies & Practices, Prohibited Person/Felon in Possession, Public Safety

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