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State v. Wright

Decided: October 30, 1986.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RICHARD WRIGHT, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On Appeal from a Final Judgment of Conviction of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.

Antell, Brody and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by D'Annunzio, J.s.c., temporarily assigned.

D'annunzio

[213 NJSuper Page 292] Defendant appeals denial of his motion to suppress evidence, a shotgun. After the denial of his motion, defendant was tried before a jury and was found guilty of possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a) and acquiring a shotgun without a purchaser identification card contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-10(a) and N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(b). Defendant

was sentenced to a total term of seven years with a period of minimum parole ineligibility of three and one-half years.

The motion to suppress was decided on a stipulation of facts supplemented with minimal testimony of Patrolman Force. The stipulation as set forth in appellant's brief follows:

On March 22, 1984, the Neptune Township Police received a report of a man with a gun at the Monmouth Motel. Patrolman Force responded to the scene. He had been advised that the suspect was a black male and would be walking toward the motel's office. Upon arriving at the scene, Patrolman Force stopped the defendant, Richard Wright to inquire about the incident. At this time, a very distraught black female (Ms. Armstrong) approached the patrolman and advised him that Mr. Wright had held her captive at gun point. Subsequently, Mr. Wright was placed in the custody of another officer while Patrolman Force went with Ms. Armstrong to the motel room that she occupied with Mr. Wright. Ms. Armstrong indicated that the gun could be found within the room, however, the patrolman was only able to locate the carrying case for the gun. Ms. Armstrong then advised the patrolman that Mr. Wright had gone to the back of the building before the police arrived and may have deposited the weapon in that area.

Patrolmen Jordan and Force walked to the rear of the building where they noted the padlock of the motel's storage shed was unlocked. At this time, Mr. Wright was safely in police custody on the other side of the building. Patrolman Force then entered the shed, without the owner's consent, and discovered the gun located underneath a sheet. At this time, the gun was seized as evidence in this matter.

The patrolman's testimony established that the storage shed was a separate building detached from the motel building. It contained mops, brooms, sheets, a lawnmower and rakes but contained nothing in the way of personal effects such as suitcases or luggage.

There is nothing in the record to indicate that the defendant was a motel employee or had authority to enter the shed or use it to store his property.

In deciding the motion, the trial judge found no exigency but did find "There is absolutely no way that this defendant could have reasonably expected a right to privacy which would be constitutionally protected. If he chose to secrete evidence in a place that was not in any way to be or could reasonably be considered a curtilage, he is not entitled to the constitutional protections afforded."

In the circumstances of this case, reasonable expectations of privacy is a questionable standard for evaluating a search and seizure under our State Constitution. State v. Alston, 88 N.J. 211 (1981). However, because the search of the motel's shed was justified by a public safety exigency, it is unnecessary to engage in an analysis of Alston and the United States Supreme Court decisions to which it responded: Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 99 S. Ct. 421, 58 L. Ed. 2d 387 (1978); United States v. Salvucci, 448 U.S. 83, 100 S. Ct. 2547, 65 L. Ed. 2d 619 (1980); Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98, 100 S. Ct. 2556, 65 L. Ed. 2d 633 (1980).

In Maryland Penitentiary v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, 87 S. Ct. 1642, 18 L. Ed. 2d 782 (1967), the Supreme Court upheld a warrantless entry and search of a residence. The police had been informed that an armed robbery had occurred and that the perpetrator had been followed to and observed entering the residence in question. The Court specifically justified the search and seizure of certain items, including weapons, on the ...


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