On certification to 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).
The Court considers whether, during an investigation into an alleged sexual assault, a police officer's warrantless entry into an apartment was justified under the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement.
In 2004, a receptionist at Passaic Mill Work noticed a young girl outside on the sidewalk crying hysterically. The receptionist invited the girl inside. The girl's name was Kathleen and she was fourteen years old. Kathleen stated that a person who was supposed to drive her to school had molested her. The police were called and Kathleen informed the officers that she had been offered a ride by a male family friend, later identified as defendant Anthony Bogan. Instead of taking her to school, Bogan drove Kathleen to an apartment in Clifton, where he lured her into a second-floor apartment and molested her. Kathleen gave a description of Bogan that included his race, age, height, and clothing, and told the officers that while she was inside the apartment a young boy named Wally was there.
Accompanied by Kathleen, three officers proceeded to the apartment. On their arrival, they found parked in front a gray Audi, which Kathleen identified as the car driven by Bogan. The officers rang the bell to the second-floor apartment. They heard an adult-sounding male voice yell from inside the apartment, "Who is it?" The officers identified themselves as police. Wally, who was approximately twelve years old, answered the door in his pajamas. The officers followed Wally up the stairs toward the apartment, asking him if he was home alone. Wally's response that no one was at home was inconsistent with the adult male voice that had responded when they rang the doorbell. At the top of the stairs, with Wally inside the apartment and the officers on the landing outside the doorway, the conversation continued. When the officers asked the whereabouts of Wally's mother, he gave conflicting answers and seemed nervous. The officers thought that Wally might be in danger. When the telephone rang in the kitchen, which was located immediately inside the apartment, Wally picked up the receiver and told the officers that his father was on the phone. One of the officers asked Wally if he could speak with his parent, and Wally responded "certainly." The officer walked a few steps into the apartment and was handed the receiver by Wally. While on the telephone, the officer was able to see into a bedroom where Bogan was lying on the bottom level of a bunk bed. Bogan fit the description given by Kathleen, and the officer motioned for the other officers to enter the apartment.
An officer read Bogan the Miranda warnings. Bogan identified himself as "Anthony Green." Another officer, who was on the telephone with Wally's mother, was told that Anthony Bogan was supposed to be caring for Wally. Upon further questioning, defendant stated that Bogan was his "maiden name." While communicating with headquarters, the officers learned that there were multiple arrest warrants for Anthony Bogan. Defendant was handcuffed and again read his Miranda rights. As he was led from the apartment, defendant admitted that he had given Kathleen a ride to the apartment in the gray Audi. He denied touching her, however, and added that he thought she was eighteen years old. Defendant was charged with luring or enticing a child, criminal sexual contact, hindering apprehension, and endangering the welfare of a child. He moved to suppress the statements he made to the police, claiming that because the officers entered the apartment without a warrant, they engaged in an unreasonable search and seizure. Bogan claimed also that he did not knowingly and voluntarily relinquish his Miranda rights.
The trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress on both grounds. The court held that the officers were justified in entering the apartment based on the exigent circumstances and community caretaking exceptions to the warrant requirement. A jury convicted Bogan on all charges.
The Appellate Division disagreed with the trial court, suppressed Bogan's inculpatory statements, and ordered a new trial. It concluded that the police, armed with probable cause, approached the apartment for the purpose of conducting an investigation and should have secured a search warrant before entering the premises. It also held that the issuance of Miranda warnings before Bogan made his incriminating statements did not break the causal chain of events precipitated by the officers' illegal entry.
The Supreme Court granted the State's petition for certification. 195 N.J. 521 (2008).
HELD: The police officer's warrantless entry into an apartment for the purpose of taking the telephone from an unattended child to speak with his parent was justified by the community caretaking doctrine because the officer had a duty to identify a responsible adult for the child and to ensure his safety. Because the officer was lawfully on the premises when he observed in plain view defendant, who fit the suspect's description, he had a right to direct his fellow officers to question defendant. Defendant's Mirandized statements in response to questioning were properly admitted at trial.
1. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution guarantee people the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. Deterring unreasonable governmental intrusion into a home is one of the chief goals of those constitutional provisions, which express a preference that government officials first obtain a warrant founded on probable cause before conducting a search. The constitutional preference in favor of a warrant dictates that the entry into and search of a home without a warrant is presumptively invalid. The State bears the burden of demonstrating that a warrantless search is justified by an established exception to the warrant requirement. The exceptions include, among others, exigent circumstances, emergency aid, and community caretaking. (Pp. 13-14).
2. In addition to criminal investigations, police officers perform a wide range of social services, such as aiding those in danger of harm. Both the United States Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of New Jersey have recognized an exception to the warrant requirement known as the community caretaking doctrine. The community caretaking role of the police extends to protecting the welfare of children. It is well-recognized that leaving children unattended may constitute a significant threat to their safety and welfare. Caselaw has found a warrantless entry to be permissible for the purpose of ensuring that children are not in immediate danger. (Pp. 14-20).
3. So long as the police had an independent basis for entering the apartment under the community caretaking exception that was not a pretext for carrying out an investigation of a potential crime, there is no bar under the federal or state constitution for the police actions in this case. Police officers are not barred under the Fourth Amendment or Article I, Paragraph 7 from fulfilling a clear community caretaking responsibility, particularly one that might prevent imminent harm to a child, merely because the officers are engaged in a concurrent criminal investigation. However, the community caretaking responsibility must be a real one, and not a pretext to conduct an otherwise unlawful warrantless search. (Pp. 20-22).
4. Here, police officers went to a Clifton apartment to investigate a crime. An adult male voice responded when they rang the doorbell and a child, not an adult, came to the downstairs door. The child, Wally, told officers that he was home alone on a day he would have been expected to be in school. The officers walked up the landing with Wally, did not enter the apartment, and questioned him about his mother's whereabouts. Wally appeared nervous and uneasy and gave inconsistent answers. Although the officers thought that Wally might be in danger, they did not rush inside, but remained outside the doorway. After Wally answered his father's phone call, he agreed that the officer could speak with his father. The officer crossed the apartment's threshold into the kitchen to take the receiver from Wally. The Court concludes that the officer did not breach either the state or federal constitution by fulfilling a basic community caretaking function-inquiring of a parent why a child was home alone on a school day in an apartment where a suspected crime had occurred. The officer had a right to step into the apartment to take the receiver from Wally; he did not need a warrant to do so. The officer had an independent basis, separate from any criminal investigation, to inquire whether a responsible adult was attending to Wally and to ask a parent simple questions concerning a child's safety and welfare. The officer was not engaged in an unlawful search. (Pp. 22-24).
5. Furthermore, the other officers did not charge in and fan out throughout the apartment looking for a suspect or evidence of a crime. They waited outside the doorway. Only when the officer who was on the telephone observed defendant, who fit the description of Kathleen's molester, lying on a bed in a nearby room did he signal for the officers to enter and question defendant. Because the officer who observed defendant was lawfully on the premises, under the plain view doctrine, the police did not have to wait for judicial permission to question and eventually take defendant into custody. Overall, the actions taken by the police officers to address the swiftly moving events and uncertain circumstances confronting them were objectively reasonable. The Court determines that it need not resolve whether the emergency aid doctrine or exigent circumstances also would have allowed the officers to enter the apartment without a warrant to ensure the safety of Wally or other potential victims. The community caretaking doctrine provided sufficient justification for the steps taken by the police. (Pp. 24-26).
6. Because the officer had a lawful right to be in the apartment when he first observed defendant, who fit the description of Kathleen's assailant, he had a corresponding duty to direct his fellow officers to question the suspect. Under those circumstances, the officers did not have to suspend their movements to secure a warrant. Defendant made incriminating statements to the police after he was informed of his Miranda rights and after he knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived those rights. The Court concludes that the trial court properly denied defendant's motion to suppress the statements he made to police. (Pp. 26-27).
The judgment of the Appellate Division is REVERSED, and the convictions are REINSTATED.
CHIEF JUSTICE RABNER and JUSTICES LONG, LaVECCHIA, WALLACE, RIVERA-SOTO and HOENS join in JUSTICE ALBIN's opinion.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Albin
Under the pretext of offering a fourteen-year-old female student a car ride to school, defendant Anthony Bogan instead took her to an apartment where he sexually molested her. That same morning, the student reported the crime to the police and gave a description of defendant and the precise location of the apartment. When the police proceeded to the apartment, a nervous, young boy in pajamas opened the door and gave inconsistent responses to simple questions. When the boy answered the telephone inside the apartment, he handed the receiver to one of the officers to speak with his parent. The officer, who stepped inside the apartment to take the call, then saw defendant -- who fit the description of the alleged molester -- lying on a bunk bed. On-site officers entered the apartment and arrested defendant, who afterwards made incriminating statements.
The trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress the statements he made to the police, finding that the entry into the apartment was justified by the exigent circumstances and community caretaking exceptions to the warrant requirement of the federal and state constitutions. Disagreeing with the trial court, the Appellate Division suppressed defendant's inculpatory statements. It concluded that the police, armed with probable cause, approached the apartment for the purpose of conducting an investigation, and should have secured a search warrant before entering the premises.
We now reverse the Appellate Division and determine that the police officer's entry into the apartment to take the telephone from an unattended child to speak with his parent was justified by the community caretaking doctrine. The officer did not need a search warrant to speak with the parent of a child, who inexplicably was not in school and was purportedly alone in an apartment where a suspected crime had occurred. Under the circumstances, the police had a community caretaking duty to identify a responsible adult for the young boy and an immediate duty to ensure his safety. Because the officer was lawfully on the premises when he observed ...