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1.5-Year Jail Sentence Overturned After Illegal Police Search

For example, consider the case of a New Jersey man whose guilty plea was recently overturned because a police officer entered private property without the right to do so.

In April 2011, police in Trenton surrounded a house where the man was a guest. Anonymous tipsters had claimed that shots had been fired and illegal weapons were in the residence.

There were also four dogs in the fenced-in backyard of the home. After knocking on the front door, an officer asked another person in the house to go into the backyard and bring the dogs in.

An officer who was at the backyard fence testified in court that the faint smell of marijuana grew stronger when the other house occupant opened the back door to get the dogs. The officer at the fence then climbed over it and arrested the man who had come into the backyard. The officer also searched the yard, the back porch and later the house.

The police reportedly seized packaged marijuana, marijuana plants and weapons. The man who was a guest in the home pleaded guilty to marijuana possession and was sentenced to 541 days in jail.

Hearing the man’s appeal, however, a two-judge panel found that all of the evidence seized in the search should be suppressed because the police did not have a right to jump the fence and enter the private property without a search warrant. In essence, the arrest of the other man and the ensuing expansion of the search occurred where police did not have a right to be.

The man’s guilty plea and his jail sentence were overturned.

If you believe you have been searched and your property seized under similar circumstances, then don’t hesitate to contact a criminal defense attorney.

For more on the legality of police searches, please see our previous post, “Search warrants must be limited in scope.”