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State v. Damplias

July 12, 1995


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County.

Approved for Publication July 12, 1995

Before Judges Dreier, Villanueva and Braithwaite. The opinion of the court was delivered by Braithwaite, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Braithwaite

The Opinion of the court was delivered by BRAITHWAITE, J.S.C. (temporarily assigned).

The State appeals by leave granted from an interlocutory order suppressing a blanket taken from the murder scene by the police. We reverse.

Mary Damplias, the victim, was estranged from her husband, the defendant, and for several months had been sleeping on a sofa in the den on the lower level of their home in Woodbridge. The defendant slept in an upstairs bedroom. Mary was allegedly having an affair with a co-worker, and had been out with him on the night of September 13, 1993.

At approximately 3:00 a.m. on September 14, 1993, Mary was stabbed by defendant twenty-six times with a kitchen knife and killed. Shortly after the incident, defendant went to the Woodbridge Police Department and told the police he had stabbed his wife. Defendant told the police that his wife was the aggressor, and had assaulted him with a kitchen knife in his bedroom on the upper level of the house. He stated he defended himself with a pillow. He claimed the argument continued to the den where he gained control of the knife and stabbed his wife.

While defendant was being questioned by Sergeant Kushner about the incident, the Identification Officer, Sergeant Haley, was at the crime scene collecting evidence, and photographing and securing the scene. At this time, Haley knew only a few facts about the incident and seized several bloody items from the area including a blue shirt, an answering machine, a telephone and several pillowcases. Although one of the pillowcases and the shirt were found on a bloodstained blanket, Haley did not seize the blanket because it had no special significance to him at the time. Haley seized the bloodstained items to have a sample of the blood found in the room. Since he had seized the other items, he did not feel it was necessary to take the blanket. Before Haley left the crime scene, he was telephoned by Kushner from police headquarters and told where to find the knife used to kill Mary. Haley located and seized the knife.

On September 17, 1993, Kushner learned from the victim's family that she had been sleeping downstairs for several months. Kushner also learned that the family had in its possession Mary's personal notes describing the problems she had with defendant. On September 20, 1993, Kushner applied for and received two search warrants, one to look for "any and all bedroom pillows" at the crime scene and another to obtain the victim's "handwritten ledger/notes" from her family at another address. The next morning, Kushner procured a third search warrant to seize "handwriting samples" of the victim from the crime scene for the purpose of comparison.

On September 21, 1993, Haley and Kushner accompanied by Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Kapsak went to the crime scene to execute the warrants authorizing the search and seizure of "any and all bedroom pillows" and "any and all handwriting samples of Mary Damplias." When Haley arrived at the crime scene, he was aware that the blanket was there because he had seen it and photographed it on September 14, 1993. However, he still did not attach any significance to the blanket because he was unaware that at the time of the incident that Mary had been sleeping on the sofa. When Kushner and Kapsak obtained the search warrants on September 20 and 21, 1993, they were unaware of the existence of the blanket because they had not been to the scene, nor had they been told about the blanket by Haley or seen the photograph of the blanket. The photograph of the blanket was not available until September 22, 1993.

When Kapsak entered the room where the incident occurred, he saw the blanket and immediately recognized its significance to the crime. Haley, Kapsak and Kushner then discussed what they knew about the incident and decided to seize the blanket. At the time the blanket was seized, the officers and Kapsak were aware of the following information: (1) the stabbing occurred on or near the sofa in the den; (2) Mary had been stabbed twenty-six times with a knife that they had recovered; (3) Mary had been sleeping in the den for several months, including the night of the incident; (4) there was a substantial amount of blood in the area of the sofa and on objects near the sofa, including the blanket; (5) Mary had the opportunity to fall asleep on the sofa prior to the stabbing; (6) other bloodstained items found on the blanket had already been seized; and (7) if Mary had been stabbed while sleeping there might be cut marks in the blanket.

After the blanket was seized without obtaining an additional warrant, it was sent to the State Police Laboratory for examination for cut marks. The laboratory determined that there were cut marks in the blanket.

On November 4, 1994, defendant filed a motion to suppress the blanket that was seized on September 21, 1993, without a warrant. The motion was granted. The State filed a motion for leave to appeal, which we granted.

On this appeal, the State contends, the motion to suppress should not have been granted. The State claims that the blanket should not have been suppressed because it was seized in accordance with the "plain view" doctrine. Defendant disagrees and contends that the blanket was properly suppressed because it was seized in violation of his rights under the Fourth ...

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