a warrant or the homeowner's consent.
In a 6-1 decision, the court found Vineland police violated Cesar Vargas' rights protecting him against unreasonable search and seizure in 2008 when officers entered his apartment after his landlord, who was owed a monthly rent check, called 911 because Vargas had not been seen in weeks.
Though the officers were dispatched simply to check on Vargas, once inside they found jars of marijuana and Vargas was indicted on charges including money laundering, possession with intent to distribute marijuana and unlawful possession of firearms.
The court, in reversing a prior Appellate Court ruling and agreeing to suppress the drug evidence, rejected arguments by the state that the officers were allowed to enter without a warrant as "community caretakers" and did not need evidence of an emergency.
"We do not question the good motives of the police officers in this case," Justice Barry Albin wrote for the majority. "But, based on the findings of the trial court, the police did not have an objectively reasonable basis to believe that an emergency threatening life or limb justified the warrantless entry into Vargas’ apartment."
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Anne Patterson said "absent clear signs of an emergency," a police officer may be unable to satisfy the standard required to enter a home when immediate action "may be essential to save lives."
"When a law enforcement officer is asked to check on the welfare of someone who is reported missing, as was the officer summoned by the landlord here, it may be impossible to determine whether the resident is in danger without entering his or her home.

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