On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County.
Before Judges Dreier, D'Annunzio and Newman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Newman, J.A.D.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Newman
The opinion of the court was delivered by
This appeal raises an issue of first impression concerning the constitutional validity of a search and seizure in a singleoccupancy, public rest room. We affirm because defendant's reasonable expectation of privacy was not violated by the police entry into an unlocked, single-occupancy rest room where defendant was engaged in illegal narcotic activity with another person.
Following the denial of his motion to suppress, defendant Willie Boynton pled guilty to third-degree possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(3) and fourth-degree resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2a. Defendant was sentenced to concurrent five-year and eighteen-month prison terms. Defendant also pled guilty on a second unrelated indictment that charged him with third-degree possession of controlled dangerous substances, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a and third-degree possession of controlled dangerous substances with intent to distribute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(3). He was sentenced to a three-year prison term to run consecutively with the terms imposed for the charges on appeal.
The relevant facts are these. On September 29, 1993, officers from the Asbury Park Police Department, in conjunction with an officer from the Bradley Beach police, were searching for an individual for whom an arrest warrant had been issued on a domestic violence complaint. The person was known to frequent the Clover Club bar in Asbury Park. After searching the main part of the bar, one of the officers went to see if the fugitive was in the rest room. He pushed against the door, meeting with some resistance. He then pushed the door again, and it opened. The officer could not tell what caused the resistance. He thought that there was a spring providing resistance designed to automatically close the door. No one testified that the door was locked, that the door had a lock that was not engaged, that an individual was holding the door shut, or that the door was not equipped with a lock at all.
In describing the bathroom itself, the officer said that it was approximately four feet deep by seven feet long with a toilet at the far end and a sink. When he opened the door, he saw defendant and another individual facing each other. Defendant was holding a plastic bag, similar to a sandwich bag, in his hand, and a dollar bill was falling to the floor. Based on his experience involving over one thousand narcotics arrests, the dollar bill and plastic bag indicated to the officer that there was some type of narcotic activity taking place.
The officer attempted to grab the bag out of defendant's hand. The defendant resisted, holding the bag to his midsection. A scuffle ensued. The officer was able to see a white powdery substance of an amount approximately the size of a golf ball in the bag.
Defendant tried to raise the bag to his mouth. The officer prevented him from doing so by grabbing defendant from behind. Noticing that defendant's hand was dangerously close to the officer's weapon, the officer struck the defendant in the head two times, causing him to fall to the floor of the bathroom. From his knees, defendant thrust the plastic bag into the toilet. Officers pulled defendant away from the toilet and subdued him. The officer retrieved the bag from the toilet. The bag contained cocaine.
Defendant moved to suppress the evidence on the grounds that it was obtained in an illegal, warrantless search. Defendant asserted that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the public rest room which the police violated by a forcible entry. Defendant contends, because the police were not lawfully in the rest room, that the search could not be justified under the plain view exception. Defendant also asserted that the State had not shown that there was any reasonable basis to believe that the fugitive was in the rest room or that it was necessary to enter forcibly to arrest him. In opposing the motion, the State argued that the police had probable cause to arrest defendant based on the officer's observation of a drug transaction in the rest room. The narcotics were admissible because they were in plain view, had been abandoned by defendant, and the seizure was justified by exigent circumstances.
In denying the motion to suppress, the trial Judge found:
Defendant did not avail himself of the privacy a stall might afford but instead conducted the alleged narcotics transaction in the common area of an unlocked public restroom. Defendant could not have had a reasonable expectation of privacy in such a location. And, therefore, Officer McDonald did not violate defendant's Fourth Amendment rights by simply opening the restroom door.
On appeal, defendant raises the following point and subheadings, contending the motion to suppress the ...