State v. Terres

Criminal law litigators: Read this opinion. This appeal presented the New Jersey Supreme Court with an issue of first impression: “Whether the police have a right to conduct a protective sweep of a home when an arrest is made outside the home and, if so, the requisite justification for a warrantless entry and protective sweep.” A judge issued a warrant for Tyler Fuller’s arrest. A detective learned that Mr. Fuller might be staying with Keith Terres at a trailer park. Mr. Terres told a trooper that Mr. Fuller might be staying in the first building to the right in the trailer park. On the morning of September 14, officers went to the trailer park to arrest Mr. Fuller. The four officers went directly to the front building where Mr. Terres had said Mr. Fuller might be found. As officers approached the front door, which was open, they observed two men inside, later identified as Mark Boston and William Willis. As soon as the police announced their presence, Mr. Boston ran toward a bedroom. Detective Petrosky pursued him, believing that he might be Mr. Fuller, while Trooper Hershey stayed with Mr. Willis. Messrs. Boston and Willis had outstanding arrest warrants. Mr. Willis identified a photograph of Mr. Fuller and indicated that Mr. Fuller could be found in a back trailer. Mr. Willis stated that, minutes earlier, he had seen Mr. Fuller there with another male. The officers knew that the trailer described by Mr. Willis belonged to Mr. Terres. Mr. Willis warned the officers to “be careful. . . . There’s two males back there.” Detective Petrosky and Trooper Hershey proceeded to Mr. Terres’s trailer two hundred yards away. Peering through one of the trailer’s windows, Detective Petrosky observed Mr. Fuller talking to a woman later identified as the defendant, Allison Terres. Det. Petrosky yelled to Mr. Fuller to get to the ground and that he was under arrest. Disobeying that command, Mr. Fuller ran through the front door. He was intercepted by Trooper Hershey, who got Mr. Fuller face down and handcuffed on the trailer’s deck within five feet of the door. Ms. Terres said that no one else was inside, and Detective Petrosky instructed her to move outside the doorway. Det. Petrosky shouted into the trailer, commanding that anyone inside was to come to the front door. With no response, Detective Petrosky stepped into the trailer and conducted a quick search of each room for the presence of the other man that Mr. Willis mentioned earlier. During the sweep, Detective Petrosky saw a handgun and the barrels of either shotguns or rifles. The trial court denied Ms. Terres’s suppression motion. The Appellate Division and Supreme Court affirmed. The Court ruled that “when an arrest occurs outside a home, the police may not enter the dwelling or conduct a protective sweep in the absence of a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a person or persons are present inside and pose an imminent threat to the officers’ safety. This balancing of the fundamental right to privacy in one’s home and the compelling interest in officer safety will depend on an objective assessment of the particular circumstances in each case, such as the manner of the arrest, the distance of the arrest from the home, the reasonableness of the officers’ suspicion that persons were in the dwelling and likely to launch an imminent attack, and any other relevant factors. A self-created exigency by the police cannot justify entry into the home or a protective sweep.”

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