Warrantless Entry Permissible Under Emergency-Aid Doctrine

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On July 20, 2015, in State v. Reece, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the emergency-aid doctrine justified the officer’s warrantless entry into the defendant’s home.

One exception to the warrant requirement set forth by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution is the emergency-aid doctrine.

The emergency-aid doctrine was previously described by the Court in State v. Frankel. The Court opined that the police officer must possess an objectively reasonable basis to believe that immediate assistance was required to protect or preserve life or prevent serious bodily injury. The primary motive of the police must be to render aid, not to search for and seize evidence. Furthermore, there must be a reasonable nexus between the area searched and the purported emergency.

In State v. Reece, the State argued that a dropped 9-1-1 call from a residence created a duty to presume there was an emergency, requiring immediate response and assistance.

The Court also looked at the following facts: defendant Reece’s nervous demeanor, an abrasion on his hand, presence of three cars in the driveway with a claim that no one else was home, and his agitation when asked if he was married.

The Court found that the officer’s warrantless entry was justified based on the factual findings and upheld Reece’s conviction for resisting arrest under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2(a) and reinstated his conviction for the obstruction of the administration of law under N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a).