HUDSON COUNTY, NEW JERSEY — At approximately 10pm on Thursday night, January 24, 2013, 33-year-old Keith Pantaleon of Jersey City, New Jersey, was in the bedroom of his apartment after a full day’s work – when he heard thumping noises coming from his living room.
Believing that his residence may be being broken into, he grabbed his soft-bound Day Planner case (which also held a lawfully purchased handgun), and cracked open his bedroom door to investigate.
In the center of his living room, he saw a man dressed entirely in dark clothing who had his back towards him. He cracked open his door slightly further and saw near the entrance to his apartment a police officer, his landlord, and an EMT worker. When the man dressed in dark clothing in the middle of his living room turned around, he saw it was another police officer.
One of the officers immediately ordered Pantaleon to come out of his bedroom. Pantaleon tossed his unopened Day Planner case onto his bed. As he went to close his bedroom door behind him, one of the officers pushed him into his living room. The officer then ordered Pantaleon to face a corner of his living room and handcuffed him.
As one of the officers watched Pantaleon (who remained in custody in Pantaleon’s living room), the other officer warrantlessly searched Pantaleon’s bedroom.
Officers took Pantaleon to police headquarters, where he was charged with unlawful possession of: two handguns, a rifle, an “assault rifle,” a large capacity magazine, and certain ammunition.
On the night in question, Pantaleon’s upstairs neighbor complained to police about insufficient heat in his apartment. The boiler for the apartment building is adjacent to the kitchen area of Pantaleon’s residence. Despite the late hour and lack of consent by Pantaleon, police had the landlord open Pantaleon’s residence on their behalf.
In November 2013, a full suppression hearing was held before the Honorable John A. Young, Jr. of the Hudson County Superior Court, at which Louis P. Nappen, Esq., of Evan F. Nappen, Attorney at Law PC, represented Pantaleon. At the hearing, testimony was taken from two officers, an EMT, Pantaleon’s landlord and the upstairs neighbor.
On January 15, 2014, Judge Young filed a written decision (which may be downloaded by clicking here), finding:
“Here, the police conduct and entering Defendant’s apartment, without a warrant, and without satisfying an exception to the warrant requirement, violated Defendant’s federal and state constitutional rights. As a result, all evidence seized as a result of the Officers’ warrantless entry and search of Defendant’s apartment must be suppressed.”
The Court found that the officers’ testimony “simply did not have a ring of truthfulness to it.”
The Court struck down every exemption to the warrant requirement that the State contended —
The Court struck down “emergency aid,” finding “No testimony that [the upstairs neighbor] required immediate assistance” and “no immediate risk to [the upstairs neighbor’s] safety that would justify a warrantless entry or search of Defendant’s apartment.”
The Court struck down “exigency,” finding “Under these circumstances, I cannot find an objectively reasonable emergency that would vindicate or support the Officers’ warrantless entry. No exigency existed on the night in question that would justify the entry into Defendant’s apartment, at 10:30pm on a weekday night, to examine the heating unit.”
The Court found that Pantaleon never consented to a search of his apartment, and that the landlord did not have authority to allow officers entry into Pantaleon’s apartment.
Lastly, the Court struck down the State’s contention that “plain view” applied, as the Officers were not in a permissible vantage point to view Pantaleon in the first instance, and that, even if they had been, nothing was “’immediately apparent’ to the Officer that was contraband or evidence of a crime.
Furthermore, an Officer inexcusably moved an item in Pantaleon’s bedroom in order to better view what was inside.
Louis P. Nappen, attorney for Pantaleon, stated, “I am glad that the Court sent a strong message that people’s privacy, especially in their homes, must be protected in New Jersey. And, in particular, Mr. Pantaleon deserved better treatment. Although he spent a month in jail for no reason, I am extremely proud that we were first able to reduce his $75,000 bail to have him freed, and now even happier that he will likely soon no longer face these wrongful charges.”
In New Jersey, permits to purchase firearms are not required for possession of firearms within one’s home. Possession of firearms within one’s residence is exempted under N.J.S. 2C:39-6e, as well as protected under the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on the Second Amendment in D.C. v. Heller and Chicago v. McDonald, and the ruling in the December 2013 New Jersey Appellate Division IMO Wheeler.
Pursuant to statute, the ammunition in question is also legal to possess since New Jersey’s ammunition prohibition only applies to handgun ammunition and the ammunition at issue is specifically designed for use in a rifle. The rifle at issue was allegedly an AR-15, one of the most commonly possessed type of rifle in America.
Pantaleon lawfully purchased his firearms as a prior resident of Pennsylvania. He also possesses permits to carry firearms from Nevada and Florida. Pantaleon has no prior criminal convictions and no mental health history. He is not accused of misusing or threatening to use any firearms. No unlawful purpose for said possessions has been alleged.
This case has been highly profiled on programs such as Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. Moreover, a friend of Pantaleon’s brought awareness of his matter on the Internet, which raised funds to hire the Nappen law firm to represent Pantaleon. (See http://www.gofundme.com/Stand4Keith .) Shortly thereafter, the NRA Civil Rights Defense Fund has also helped fund Pantaleon’s defense.