New Jersey Residents Do Not Give Up Their Expectation of Privacy When Hosting Large House Parties – Even When Violating Noise Ordinances
In New Jersey v. Kaltner, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that a trial court correctly suppressed drug evidence found in a bedroom during a warrantless search of a residence by police officers who were responding to noise complaints.
On October 22, 2009, housemates of defendant Derek J. Kaltner hosted a party in the home they rented in Long Branch, New Jersey. Five Long Branch police officers in plain clothes responded to the home after receiving noise complaints. The officers canvassed the house, looking for its residents. An officer peered into Kaltner’s bedroom and saw pills, which he seized. The same officer also observed Kaltner's identification cards sitting on the table near the pills. One of the partygoers telephoned Kaltner, who was at his parent's home in Rochelle Park. Kaltner returned to the residence and was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance.
The trial court found that the officers were invited to enter - at least into the common area of the home. However, the trial judge suppressed the drug evidence after concluding that the officers unlawfully extended their search beyond entry into the first floor main living area. The judge explained that any number of methods could have been employed by the officers to locate a resident of the premises that would not have required invading the private areas of the home without a warrant. On appeal, the question was whether, after their legitimate entry, the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement justified the officers' conduct in fanning out in search of those in control of the premises in an attempt to abate the noise nuisance.
The appellate court upheld the trial court, noting that the objective of noise abatement could have been achieved well short of the officers' full-scale search. For example, given the number of officers present and the fact that the offending noise emanated from the crowd itself, the officers could easily have dispersed the partiers. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that because the police officers' warrantless search of the home after they were called to address a noise complaint was not objectively reasonable, the evidence obtained during the search was properly suppressed.