The Supreme Court of New Jersey recently granted certification in State v. Bookman. The issue before the court is whether police officers may enter a third party’s home under the hot pursuit doctrine when the subject flees when officers attempt to execute an Automated Traffic System warrant.
Facts of the Case
In the early morning hours of November 2, 2017, a team of New Jersey State Police members assembled at the 1200-block of Thurman Street in Camden to execute an arrest warrant for Julian Bell, who resided at 1235 Thurman Street. Earlier that evening, they observed Bell engaging in a narcotics transaction. The officers had an outstanding Automated Traffic System (ATS) warrant for Bell.
The team of officers observed a group of several men, including Bell and defendant Steven Bookman, standing in front of 1235 and 1237 Thurman Street. The team approached and identified themselves as police officers, which prompted the group of men to flee. The officers observed Bell and defendant running toward the 1237 residence.
The officers pursued Bell and followed him into the residence. Once inside, one of the officers, Detective DeVirgiliis, observed defendant lying prone on the floor with his arms stretched out in what the detective described as a “safety position.” While conducting the frisk, Detective DeVirgiliis told defendant he would probably be let go soon, as he was not the subject of the investigation. Defendant replied it was unlikely he would be released. Detective DeVirgiliis—who was still frisking defendant—asked for clarification, and defendant said “‘[n]o, you’re not going to let me go because I have a gun in my jacket pocket.'” The jacket was on the floor near defendant. Detective DeVirgiliis found the gun in the jacket pocket and removed it.
In January 2018, a grand jury indicted defendant for second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b), and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm by a certain person, that is, a person previously convicted of a specified crime, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(b). Defendant filed a motion to suppress the handgun, arguing that the State Police officers had no lawful authority to pursue Bell into the residence, to conduct a sweep search, to conduct the protective frisk of defendant’s person or the frisk of the nearby jacket that revealed the firearm.
Appellate Division’s Decision
The Appellate Division rejected the defendant’s argument, affirming the denial of his motion to suppress. According to the appeals court, “Every step taken by the officers in the swiftly unfolding sequence of events was objectively reasonable and lawful.”
In reaching its decision, the Appellate Division concluded that the police entry was lawful under the hot pursuit doctrine as explained and applied by our Supreme Court in State v. Jones, 143 N.J. 4 (1995). The appeals court specifically found that the State Police officers were justified in pursuing Bell into the private residence based on the outstanding ATS warrant. In support, the court cited that police officers acting pursuant to a valid arrest warrant have the right to follow a fleeing suspect into a private residence.
Issues Before the New Jersey Supreme Court
The New Jersey granted certification on December 10, 2021. The justices have agreed to consider the following question: “When police officers attempt to execute an Automated Traffic System warrant and the subject flees, is it permissible for officers to enter a third party’s home under the hot pursuit doctrine?”
Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled.