Kelly Heuser


In State v. Harris the New Jersey Supreme Court held that domestic violence search warrants based on reasonable cause will suffice in place of warrants based on probable cause under the statutory scheme of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA). This Note examines the Court’s reasoning in State v. Harris and its use of the special needs exception to circumvent the probable cause requirement in the Fourth Amendment’s warrant clause.

If searches and seizures are conducted without a warrant, they are considered presumptively unreasonable. Realizing that the demands of public safety do not always allow for the process of obtaining a warrant, the United States Supreme Court has come to recognize several “well-delineated exceptions” to the presumptive warrant requirement. One such exception is the special needs exception, which requires that: (1) there is “special need beyond” ordinary law enforcement purposes; (2) the subject(s) of the search have a reduced expectation of privacy; and (3) the requirement of obtaining a warrant or probable cause prior to conducting a search are a practical hindrance to protecting the special need. If these conditions are met, a search warrant based on probable cause is replaced with interest-balancing to determine the reasonableness of the search.

This Note argues that the New Jersey Supreme Court erred in its conclusion that the PDVA scheme qualifies for the special needs exception. The majority’s opinion assumed that the exception applied and lacked more than cursory analysis. A complete analysis reveals that the PDVA does not satisfy any of the three prongs of the special needs exception. Furthermore, other exceptions to the warrant clause, including the emergency aid doctrine and the community caretaking doctrine, which were not explored by the Court, are equally unsuited to bring the statute into compliance with the Fourth Amendment. New Jersey should abandon the rule in Harris and adopt the standard suggested by the dissenting justices.