On appeal from the Superior Court, Appellate Division.
(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).
[NOTE: This is a companion case to State v. Jones, also filed today.]
The narrow issue raised in this appeal is whether the totality of the circumstances justified a no-knock warrant on the basis of officer safety.
In May 2001, the Cape May Prosecutor's Office received information from a confidential informant of known reliability that Lydia Sanchez was selling cocaine out of her second-floor, duplex apartment in Wildwood. Based on that tip and on two controlled drug buys performed at the apartment, Agent Darrell Shelton applied for a warrant before a judge of the Wildwood Municipal Court to search Sanchez's apartment and person.
In the search warrant application, Shelton also sought approval for a no-knock entry (without police knocking or announcing their presence). Shelton's affidavit asserted that Sanchez's nine-year-old arrest for aggravated assault and unlawful possession of a weapon posed a risk to officer safety. It also disclosed that Sanchez's criminal history included a 1992 arrest for possession of CDS and a 1972 arrest for shoplifting. The municipal court judge issued the search warrant and authorized its execution without knocking.
When police executed the no-knock warrant at Sanchez's residence, they discovered a substantial quantity of cocaine, a small supply of marijuana, and miscellaneous drug paraphernalia. Sanchez was charged with numerous drug-related offenses.
Sanchez moved to suppress the seized narcotics, arguing that there was insufficient information in the search warrant application to permit a no-knock entry. The trial court granted Sanchez's motion to suppress. On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed in an unpublished opinion. Noting that this was a close case, two of the panel's three judges concluded that Sanchez's criminal record provided the police reasonable suspicion to believe that they were dealing with a person with a potentially violent disposition in the drug milieu. The third member of the panel dissented, reasoning that the record presented to the municipal court judge did not provide a reasonable, particularized suspicion of a danger to officer safety sufficient to justify a no-knock entry.
The Supreme Court granted Sanchez's motion for leave to appeal.
HELD In the totality of the circumstances, the police articulated a reasonable, particularized suspicion of a danger to officer safety sufficient to justify the no-knock entry.
1. This Court addressed in detail the controlling principles concerning no-knock warrants in State v. Jones, __ N.J.
__ (2004), also decided today. Here, as in Jones, the criminal drug activity occurred in Wildwood; Agent Shelton
sought a search warrant based on the tip of a confidential informant and controlled drug buys; the same Wildwood Municipal Court Judge issued the warrant; and the warrant allowed a no-knock entry. Although this case presents a closer question than Jones, the Court concludes ...