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State v. Smith

Decided: April 7, 1976.


Carton, Crahay and Handler. The opinion of the court was delivered by Handler, J.A.D.


Defendant was charged by indictment with armed robbery and pleaded not guilty. He then moved to suppress the use as evidence against him of a certain gun. A hearing was held and the motion was granted. The State then obtained leave to appeal.

The sole witness for the State at the suppression hearing was Detective Gourley of the Paterson Police Department. He testified that on a certain date, at 8:30 A.M., he and two other detectives went to an apartment rented by one Shirl Bouier in order to execute a warrant for the arrest of one Marvin Higgins. Although the address indicated as Higgins' on the warrant was different, the detectives had information that Higgins would be at the Bouier apartment.

They were admitted into the apartment by a maintenance man who used a pass key and entered, apparently without announcing their purpose or authority. On entering the detectives saw Higgins in the living room. Higgins threw a paper bag onto the floor and reached into the pocket of his bathrobe. Gourley told Higgins to take his hands out of his pocket and put them in the air. Detective Brejack then removed a gun from the bathrobe pocket. The discarded bag contained six smaller bags, each of which contained a white powder which Gourley believed to be narcotics. There were also narcotic implements on a living room table. Sitting at a kitchen table near the living room were two other men and Gourley saw on the table narcotic implements consisting of hypodermic needles, a cooker and glassine envelopes.

The detectives proceeded to search the rest of the apartment. Detective Ragucci remained in the living room where he detained Higgins and the two other men, while Gourley and Brejack went down the hallway to the master bedroom about 35 feet away.

The door to the bedroom was open and the detectives saw defendant and Bouier asleep in the bed. Gourley awakened them and told them to get dressed and get out of the room. He did not arrest them or tell them that they were under arrest but he watched them from the bedroom door as they were getting dressed. Meanwhile Brejack actually entered the bedroom. Gourley saw Brejack turn around from the dresser with a gun in his hand, a loaded .22-caliber revolver, which is the subject of the suppress motion. Brejack also found a shotgun in the closet. Brejack did not testify and Gourley could only state that the revolver was found "in or on the dresser."

After the guns were found defendant and Bouier were taken into the living room to join the others. At that point Gourley detained them all in the living room while Brejack and Ragucci went back to check other rooms where they found defendant's brother asleep in one bedroom and children asleep in another.

The sole witness for the defense was Shirl Bouier, who indicated that the apartment was hers and defendant occasionally spent nights there.

The trial judge concluded that upon entering the bedrooms there was no contraband or evidence in plain view and that no one was seeking to hide anyone, and there was no "risk or hazard to [the] safety" of the officers. Accordingly, he ruled that the failure to obtain a search warrant under these circumstances required suppression of the evidence seized. We disagree and reverse.

At the outset we determine that the search in question cannot be upheld as one incidental to the arrest of defendant. Defendant himself had not been placed under arrest at the time the revolver in the bedroom was taken by the police officer. Nevertheless, the principles applicable to a search incidental to arrest, as articulated in Chimel v. California , 395 U.S. 752, 89 S. Ct. 2034, 23 L. Ed. 2d 685 (1969), have some pertinency to this case.

Though the United States Supreme Court has never ruled on it, some state courts and lower federal courts have recognized an amplification of the Chimel rule where more than one person may be present at the time of an arrest. Thus, where police have reason to believe in connection with the arrest of an individual that there may be danger from third parties on the premises, they may then "fan out" and conduct a protective sweep of the area. E.g., United States v. Looney , 481 F.2d 31 (5 Cir. 1973), cert. den. 414 U.S. 1070, 94 S. Ct. 581, 38 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1973); United States v. Briddle , 436 F.2d 4 (8 Cir. 1970), cert. den. 401 U.S. 921, 91 S. Ct. 910, 27 L. Ed. 2d 824 (1971); United States v. Broomfield , 336 F. Supp. 179 (E.D. Mich. 1972); State v. Miller , 126 N.J. Super. 572 (App. Div. 1974). But cf. United States v. ...

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