In State v. Anthony Miranda (A-67-21/086773) (Decided by May 3, 2023), the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the exigent-circumstances exception to the warrant requirement failed to justify an officer’s search of the defendant’s bag or the seizure of the weapons in that bag.
Facts of State v. Miranda
On July 27, 2019, N.D. and her adult daughter and son appeared at the headquarters of the Borough of Highlands Police Department. They spoke with the two officers on duty that day, Captain George Roxby and Detective Nicholas Riker. N.D. told the officers that she and defendant had been dating since 2015. She stated that defendant had assaulted her and showed them photographs of injuries. She presented to the officers screenshots of threatening text messages that she attributed to defendant. N.D. reported that defendant had brandished two guns in front of her and her children. She said that defendant kept the guns in a “black drawstring-type bag” in the residential trailer in which she, her children, and defendant lived.
The officers contacted a judge, who entered a temporary restraining order against defendant and a search warrant for the residential trailer where defendant and N.D. lived. Roxby and Riker arrived at the residential trailer and knocked on the door. Defendant answered and was arrested. Roxby entered the residential trailer to execute the search warrant but found no weapons. He and N.D. joined N.D.’s children and another adult female family member outside. Roxby’s bodycam recorded the family member saying that “[h]e has a storage.” Roxby asked N.D., “you keep your stuff in there also, right?” N.D. answered affirmatively.
Roxby walked up the steps to the storage trailer. The door to the storage trailer was open, and the screen door was closed but unlocked. Roxby opened the screen door and entered the storage trailer, followed by N.D. Referring to a black bag that was initially off-camera, N.D. exclaimed, “[t]hat’s it.” Roxby then opened the bag. He removed a police badge, two guns, and ammunition. Roxby took the weapons and ammunition to police headquarters and secured them.
Defendant was indicted, and he moved to suppress the weapons found in the black bag in the storage trailer. The trial court denied defendant’s motion, concluding that N.D. had consented to the search of the storage trailer and the seizure of the weapons found in the black bag in that trailer, and that the black bag containing the weapons was in plain view. The Appellate Division affirmed.
NJ Supreme Court’s Decision in State v. Miranda
The Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed. It held that N.D. had apparent authority to consent to the officer’s search of the storage trailer. However, it also held that the exigent-circumstances exception to the warrant requirement does not justify the officer’s search of the black bag or his seizure of the weapons in that bag, and the denial of defendant’s motion to suppress constituted error.
The New Jersey Supreme Court first addressed whether N.D. had apparent authority to consent to the search of the trailer. As it explained, apparent authority arises when a third party (1) does not possess actual authority to consent but appears to have such authority and (2) the law enforcement officer reasonably relies, from an objective perspective, on that appearance of authority in view of the facts and circumstances known at the time of the search.
With regard to the storage trailer, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that N.D. did have apparent authority to consent to the search. In support, the court cited information known to Roxby about N.D.’s nexus to the storage trailer when he entered and searched it, including N.D.’s affirmations that she also kept belongings in the trailer; text messages attributed to defendant suggesting defendant considered the residential trailer to be N.D.’s, that N.D. had lived in that trailer and the community longer than defendant had, and that he planned an imminent move out of her home; and N.D.’s access to the storage trailer.
The New Jersey Supreme Court next turned to whether Roxby’s search of the bag found inside that trailer and his seizure of the weapons were constitutional. It ultimately concluded the State did not prove its claim that exigent circumstances justified the warrantless search of the black bag and the seizure of the weapons. “With defendant under arrest, Roxby had the opportunity to apply for and secure a warrant to search the bag and seize the weapons within it,” the court wrote. “The circumstances facing Roxby were not so urgent as to obviate the need to obtain a warrant.”
Based on its findings, the New Jersey Supreme Court further concluded that the defendant’s motion to suppress the weapons seized through that unlawful search should therefore have been granted. Because those weapons constituted the central evidence against defendant on the charge of unlawful possession of a weapon, it found that the defendant’s conviction must be vacated.