Does the “third-party intervention” or “private search” doctrine apply to a warrantless search of a home?

The transformational case of State v. Ricky Wright decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court  on May 19, 2015 was an extremely hard fought Monmouth County trial level case.

The holding of this case is novel: Any civilian third party intervention as a private search does not excuse law enforcement from the warrant requirement.  Absent exigency or some other exception to the warrant requirement, police must get a warrant to search a home even if a private actor has already searched the area, identified contraband, and notified the police.

Shortly after the New Jersey Supreme Court decided this case, the prosecutor moved to dismiss the indictment and vacate the sentence. Mr. Wright was released from custody and returned home to his family.

This case has special meaning to me as I was the trial attorney who represented Mr. Wright during the suppression hearing. However, the true heros are the attorneys from the Appellate Section of the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender who fought relentlessly to get justice for Mr. Wright. My hat goes off to Rochelle M.A. Watson, Esq. and Sylvia M. Orenstein, Esq. for a job well done.

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