In State v. Bookman, 251 N.J. 600, 605-06 (2002), the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the warrantless entry into a residence was not justified by the hot pursuit exception to the warrant requirement, but “decline[d] to adopt a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach to the execution of all ATS [Automated Traffic System] arrest warrants because interactions between police officers and the public are inherently unpredictable and may give rise to tragic consequences.”

In that case, Julian Bell had been the subject of “a long-term investigation” by the State Police in connection with the theft of motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.   Id. at 606.  On November 1, 2017, the State Police received information that Bell was observed standing in front of his residence conducting what was suspected to be the sale of narcotics.  Ibid.  The police did not, however, attempt to obtain a warrant to detain Bell on narcotics charges, but rather, the “sole legal ground” to arrest him was based on a four-month old arrest warrant, issued for failure to respond to a summons charging him with driving with a suspended driver’s license, in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-40.  Ibid.

Sometime after 1:00 a.m. on November 2, 2017, eight State Police officers were deployed to arrest Bell on the ATS warrant.  Id. at 605-06.  When the officers arrived at Bell’s residence, one of a series of closely aligned row houses, they saw him standing outside with the defendant Steven Bookman.  Bell and Bookman ran into the row house immediately adjacent to Bell’s residence.  Id. at 607.  The officers pursued Bookman to a second-floor bedroom, where they found him “face down with his arms outstretched.”  Ibid.  “After an officer informed Bookman he did not have legal grounds to detain him, Bookman voluntarily told the officer he had a revolver inside his jacket pocket.  The officer retrieved the handgun and arrested Bookman.”  Id. at 605.

The trial judge denied Bookman’s motion to suppress the handgun, “finding that the State Police officers were permitted to enter the residence without a warrant under the hot pursuit doctrine.”  Ibid.  The Appellate Division affirmed.  Ibid.   On appeal, Bookman urged the “Court to adopt a bright-line rule providing that an ATS warrant is not sufficient to justify the warrantless entry of a home under the hot pursuit doctrine.”  Ibid.

The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding that the totality of the circumstances did not justify the officers’ hot pursuit into a third-party residence to execute an ATS warrant to arrest Bell.   Id. at 614-22.  The Court set forth that “warrantless entries into the home are presumptively invalid unless the State can show that one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement applies.”  Id. at 613. “One ‘exception to the warrant requirement is the presence of exigent circumstances.’”  Ibid. (quoting State in Int. of J.A., 233 N.J. 432, 448 (2018)).  Under that exception “[t]he State must show that the police ‘had probable cause and faced an objective exigency.’”  Ibid. (quoting State in Int. of J.A., 233 N.J. at 448).  “The hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect may constitute an exigent circumstance sufficient to justify a warrantless home entry if the officers are in ‘immediate or continuous pursuit’ of the suspect.”  Id. at 613-14 (quoting State v. Bolte, 115 N.J. 579, 597-98 (1989)).  “Whether there are sufficient exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless entry into a third party’s home is a fact-sensitive inquiry.”  Id. at 614.  Courts must consider whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the entry was objectively justified, with the proper focus on “the conduct of the officers and not their subjective intent.”  Ibid.

Applying that analysis, the Court found that the “officers did not act in an objectively reasonable manner when they chose to execute a four-month-old ATS warrant for Bell’s failure to appear in response to a Title 39 violation at 1:00 a.m.”  Id. at 619.  “Although police officers are permitted to enter the subject of an arrest warrant’s home when they have reason to believe the subject is inside, . . . this rule does not extend to third-party homes.”  Ibid.  “Moreover, the municipal court that issued the ATS warrant only authorized Bell’s arrest and the entry of his home, if necessary.  The warrant did not authorize officers to pursue Bookman    . . . Because the State Police did not have any information that Bookman was involved in any criminal activity, Bookman’s decision to run from the scene did not constitute grounds to invoke the hot pursuit doctrine.”  Ibid.  Additionally, “the officers knew that the ATS warrant was for a minor traffic offense and had no reason to suspect there was any risk of danger or destruction of evidence relevant to that warrant that may have justified a hot pursuit.”  Ibid.  Thus, the Court held that the police officers who entered the adjacent residence without a warrant did not have grounds to invoke the hot pursuit doctrine and the Court suppressed the handgun.  Id. at 622.

State v. Bookman is a significant new case in the area of the “hot pursuit” exception to the warrant requirement.

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