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State of New Jersey v. Derek J. Kaltner

June 29, 2011

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
DEREK J. KALTNER, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Indictment No. 10-05-757.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Parrillo, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Submitted June 1, 2011

Before Judges Parrillo, Espinosa and Skillman.

The opinion of the court was delivered by PARRILLO, P.J.A.D.

We granted the State leave to appeal from the Law Division's order suppressing evidence of drugs seized from the third floor bedroom of defendant Derek Kaltner. For the following reasons, we affirm.

According to the State's proofs, towards the end of September 2009, defendant and four other men, all Monmouth University students and at least two of whom were fraternity brothers, rented an off-campus home located in a residential neighborhood of Long Branch. The following month, on the evening of October 22, 2009, their home was host to a large party, resulting in a noise complaint to Long Branch Police.

The City of Long Branch has a noise ordinance, which provides:

It shall be unlawful for any person to make, continue or cause to be made or continued any loud, unnecessary or unusual noise or any noise which endangers the health, safety or welfare of the community or which annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others nearby or near to or upon a public highway, road, street, lane, alley, park residence, square or common whereby the public peace is broken or disturbed or exceeds the sound pressure levels enumerated in § 235-4. [Long Branch, N.J., Code § 235-1 (2010).]

According to Long Branch Police Officer Ramon Camacho, upon responding to noise complaints, police typically knock on the door of the offending residence, speak with the responsible resident, and direct that individual to comply with the noise ordinance by issuing either a verbal warning or written summons. In fact, this was not the first time Camacho had been dispatched to the residence at 741 Westwood Avenue. Earlier that month,Camacho had responded to complaints of a loud party at the home and warned one of defendant's housemates to abate the noise or a summons would issue for violating the city's noise ordinance.

On the present occasion, Camacho and four other officers arrived at the residence at 2:15 a.m. on October 23, 2009. Three of the officers, including Camacho, were in plain clothes as part of the Street Crimes Unit (SCU), which focuses on quality of life issues such as noise and underage drinking. Hearing loud noise emanating from the home, Camacho knocked on the front door. Within a minute, an unidentified male opened the door to allow the officers entry, but walked away before the officers could speak with him. Upon entering the home, Camacho observed "a sea of people crowded everywhere" drinking beer and talking loudly with beer cans and plastic cups thrown about. While some were clearly intoxicated, none appeared to need medical assistance or any emergency aid. In an attempt to locate the responsible residents, the officers repeatedly shouted, "who lives here?" but none of the partygoers responded.

Officer Camacho estimated that between 120 and 150 people were present throughout the residence, including the basement and upper floors. Upon police arrival, partygoers began "flushing out of the house." Camacho did not recognize the resident to whom he had spoken when responding to a noise complaint on the earlier occasion.

When none of the people inside the home answered the police request that the residents come forward, the officers separated and canvassed the residence. According to Camacho, their purpose was to identify and locate the residents in order to clear out the party, abate the noise and ensure that no individual was in need of medical assistance, even though there were no reports of anyone in need of assistance or in physical distress.

Believing that there were numerous individuals on the upper floors, Camacho proceeded alone to the second floor, shouting "who lives here?" along the way. While in the second floor hallway, Camacho approached more partygoers, asking each of them whether he or she was a resident. None of those individuals acknowledged being a resident of the home.

Finding no residents, Camacho proceeded to the third floor where he found defendant's bedroom door open. Camacho peered into the bedroom from the hallway to see if anyone was hiding inside. From the hallway, Camacho observed two green, star-shaped pills with no markings in small plastic bags, sitting in plain view atop a small table in defendant's bedroom about six feet away from the hallway. Based on his training andexperience, ...


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