Commonwealth v. C.J.
Homeland Security intercepted a package destined to Philadelphia from Jamaica that contained one kilogram of cocaine. BNI agents out of the PA Attorney General’s Office obtained an anticipatory search warrant for the address the package was being delivered to, and an undercover agent posing as a Fed Ex Driver delivered the box. While a “takedown team” of officers awaited in a nearby van, surveillance agents watching the package observed C.J. exit the house next door, retrieve the package and go inside. Claiming that he didn’t know whether C.J. was a friendly neighbour or a co-conspirator, the lead BNI agent decided to conduct a “knock and talk”. While at the front door, the lead BNI Agent claimed that there were several small children inside the property who told the agent that C.J. “either ran or went” into the basement. The Agent went inside the house by himself and repeatedly announced the police presence without any response. Alleging that he feared evidence would be destroyed and that the situation presented a safety risk to officers, the lead agent decided to enter the basement with six armed tactical support officers. Agents claimed that C.J. tried to flee with the package and that after he was stopped he gave a statement to them that purportedly tied C.J. into a large drug conspiracy.
The defense filed a motion to suppress the 1 kilo of cocaine in the box on the grounds that the BNI agents failed to obtain a search warrant for C.J.’s property and that the “exigent circumstances” cited by the District Attorney to justify the illegal entry into the house were were insufficient. The defense highlighted inconsistencies in the BNI paperwork and argued that because the police created the “exigencies” (i.e., a risk that the evidence could be destroyed, the suspect could flee, officer safety, etc.) they could not rely on those factors to justify a forced entry into someone’s home without a valid search warrant. A judge agreed and the drugs and statements by C.J. were suppressed and the case dismissed.