A recent murder case will test the limits of search warrants issued under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act ("PDVA"). In the case, the State indicted a South Jersey man for double homicide, weapons charges, and drug possession. The evidence used to substantiate the charges came from a search police officers conducted pursuant to a restraining order search.
What Is a Restraining Order Search?
The PDVA grants courts the authority to issue restraining orders to protect a victim of domestic violence. Along with the order, judges authorize the police to search and seize any weapons that may pose a threat to the victim from the defendant's home or any other place. This search is often called a restraining order search.
In this recent case, the defendant's ex-girlfriend alleged that the defendant threatened her with a gun and admitted to killing two homicide victims earlier that year. With this testimony, the court granted the ex-girlfriend a temporary restraining order and authorized officers to conduct a weapons search of the defendant's home. Police officers found a loaded shotgun, two loaded handgun magazines, and illegal narcotics during the search. Officers charged both the defendant and his mother, who live together at the residence, with weapons offenses and drug possession. They also charged the defendant with double homicide based on the ex-girlfriend's testimony and other evidence found at the scene.
What is the Scope of a Restraining Order Search?
Judges only issue criminal search warrants after there is a probable cause finding based on sworn testimony. However, in New Jersey, there is another type of search warrant referred to as a special needs warrant. Special needs warrants fall under the community caretaking function of the police. The primary purpose of a special needs warrant is to promote the government's interest in the safety of its citizens. Judges may issue these warrants when there is a reasonable need to protect the security of citizens. However, because the basis of these warrants is community caretaking, not criminal activity, the law limits the search scope.
A restraining order search occurs as a result of this special type of search warrant. With a restraining order warrant, judges authorize officers to remove weapons from the defendant's residence to protect the victim. However, these warrants do not allow the search and seizure of criminal evidence unrelated to the domestic violence case. The police must meet other conditions to substantiate charges based on discovering evidence in this way. Because of this, it is unclear whether the court will allow the State to use the evidence it uncovered in this current case at trial.
Getting Legal Help
Defending yourself against a restraining order or related charges is not something you should tackle on your own, especially if your freedom is at stake. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience fighting for the rights of the accused in New Jersey and can help you with your case too. Call (888) 535-3686 now to speak directly with Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm about your matter today.