State v. Fede

This case asks the question, can you be prosecuted for telling the police “Get a Warrant?” The answer should clearly be no. Yet the defendant in this case was prosecuted, and convicted, for just that. Police responded to a 911 call reporting a domestic dispute nearby. When they knocked on the defendant’s door, he opened it a few inches with the chain lock still engaged. Through the open door, he refused the police’s request for consent to enter, telling them to get a warrant. After half an hour of unsuccessfully seeking consent, the police used a baton to break the chain lock and enter. They found no person in distress, nor any contraband, drugs, or other evidence of criminal activity. Nonetheless, they arrested the defendant and charged him with obstruction of justice for refusing to unlock the chain for them. On behalf of the ACLU-NJ and the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, the ACLU-NJ filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that failure to consent to a warrantless policy entry, without more, cannot be obstruction. The ACLU-NJ cautioned that criminalizing failure to consent to a search of one’s home – or failure to waive constitutional rights more broadly – sets a dangerous precedent and undermines the Supreme Court’s prior jurisprudence.

Status

The case was argued at the New Jersey Supreme Court on November 27, 2018.

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