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State v. Gonzales

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In State v. Gonzales, 2016 WL 6695872, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the scope of the plain view exception to the warrant requirement. The defendant was observed engaging in what was believed to be a drug transaction, after which the police conducted a lawful motor-vehicle stop, and the officer observed what he identified as bricks of heroin spilled on the floor of the car. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the heroin, determining that the seizure fell squarely within the three-part standard governing the plain view exception to the warrant requirement which requires that the police officer be lawfully in the area where the evidence is observed, it is immediately apparent that the items are evidence of a crime or contraband, and the discovery is inadvertent. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that the discovery was not inadvertent because the officers expected to find the drugs in the car.

The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the holding of the Appellate Division. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that whether a seizure is constitutional is an objective question, and the inadvertence requirement introduced a subjective inquiry into the intent of the police at the time of the search. As such, it is no longer required that the discovery of evidence in plain view must be inadvertent. While this decision was not to be applied retroactively, the Court found that the search in the present case met all three parts of the previous standard, and reversed the holding of the Appellate Division.

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