Proposed Amendments to R. 7:5-2—Permitting Municipal Court Judges to Hear Motions to Suppress Evidence Seized under Search Warrants
A member of the Supreme Court Municipal Court Practice Committee (Committee) proposed amending R. 7:5-2 to allow municipal court judges to hear motions to suppress evidence seized under a search warrant in matters within the trial jurisdiction of the court, where the original search warrant was issued by a municipal court judge. Currently, municipal court judges are only permitted to hear motions to suppress evidence seized without a warrant.
Until June 1989, only Superior Court judges could hear motions to suppress evidence. In its 1987 Report to the Supreme Court, the Criminal Practice Committee recommended amending its rules to allow municipal court judges to hear motions to suppress evidence, within their jurisdiction, both those related to warrantless searches and searches made with a warrant, where the original warrant was not issued by a Superior Court judge. The Criminal Practice Committee reasoned that municipal court judges were competent to hear these motions, because they were no more complex than matters that the municipal court judges handled routinely, such as driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. The Criminal Practice Committee was also of the opinion that it was impractical and inefficient for suppression motions to be heard in the Superior Court where the case would need to be transferred back to the municipal court for adjudication. The 2
Criminal Practice Committee recommended, however, that further review should be undertaken to study the practical implications of this rule change, such as the impact it might have on the Superior Court and municipal court calendars.
The Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Courts in its 1987 report agreed with the Criminal Practice Committee’s rule recommendation to allow municipal court judges to handle suppression motions stating:
The Committee was of the view that municipal court judges have the competency to handle such motions. Clearly if municipal court judges are competent to issue search warrants, they are competent to rule on the validity of those warrants. They are certainly capable and do handle motions of a constitutional magnitude currently.
[1987 Report of the Supreme Court Committee on Municipal Courts 16.]
In June 1989, the Supreme Court amended the Part III and Part VII rules to permit municipal court judges to hear motions to suppress but only when related to warrantless searches. It is unclear why the Court did not accept the recommendation of the Committee on Municipal Courts and the Criminal Practice Committee to authorize municipal court judges to hear motions to suppress stemming from search warrants issued by municipal court judges. However, the rule change, limited as it was, received favorable comment in the Appellate Division decision of State v. Mazurek, 237 N.J. Super. 231 (App. Div. 1989). There, the court noted the problem created by an appeal from the motion to suppress heard in the Superior Court, where the guilty plea was accepted in the municipal court. The court said: “We note that the problem may have been ameliorated in part with the recent amendment to R. 7:4-2(f) [now R. 7:5-2(a)] which permits a drunken driving 3
suppression motion to be heard in the municipal court.” State v. Mazurek, 237 N.J. Super. at 279.
During this term, the Committee returned to a discussion of whether R. 7:5-2 should be amended to permit municipal court judges to hear motions to suppress evidence that was obtained under a search warrant. A member proposed an amendment to R. 7:5-2 that would permit a municipal court to entertain a motion to suppress evidence seized with a warrant, when the warrant was issued by a municipal court judge, in a matter within the municipal court’s trial jurisdiction.
Most members supported the amendment. The primary argument in favor was that municipal court judges had thoroughly demonstrated their competence to decide complex search and seizure issues, because they had been deciding these issues with regard to warrantless searches since the 1989 rule change. In addition, municipal court judges in all vicinages had demonstrated their ability to deal with complex legal issues, such as those surrounding New Jersey’s DWI laws.
Further, the members thought that municipal court judges deciding motions to suppress might help relieve crowded Superior Court judges’ dockets, particularly since the number of warrant-related motions to suppress in DWI cases would increase, because of the recent United States Supreme Court decision in Missouri v. McNeely, ___ U.S. ____, 133 S. Ct. 1552; 185 L. Ed. 2d 696 (2013). In Missouri v. McNeely, the United States Supreme Court held that in some circumstances a warrant was needed to draw blood after an automobile stop for a prosecution for DWI. The Committee also believed that municipal court judges’ extensive experience in deciding DWI cases might be helpful in evaluating a motion 4
to suppress evidence gathered as a result of a blood draw warrant and other warrants related to a DWI prosecution.
The Committee recognized that it would be inappropriate for a municipal court judge to hear a motion to suppress regarding evidence seized with a warrant issued by a Superior Court judge, so the proposed rule was drafted accordingly. It was also recognized that the judge who issued the search warrant could not hear a motion to suppress evidence gathered by that warrant. Therefore, in a municipal court in which only one judge sat, the motion to suppress would need to be decided by an acting judge. Accordingly, the rule contains a provision for such suppression motions to be heard by the Presiding Judge of the vicinage or by another acting judge designated by the Assignment Judge.
The Committee also added subsection (e) to the rule providing that a search and seizure made with a search warrant shall not be deemed unlawful because of technical insufficiencies. This subsection was modeled on R. 3:5-7(g).
After a thorough and thoughtful discussion, the Committee voted in favor of the proposed rule amendment by a vote of 19 in favor to 8 opposed. The full text of the proposed rule is below.
Referral to Criminal Practice Committee
The Committee realized that its recommended amendment to R. 7:5-2 would impact the Part III Court Rule on motions to suppress, R. 3:5-7. As a result, on February 18, 2014 Judge McGeady, Chair of the Committee, forwarded to Judge Lawson, then-Chair of the Criminal Practice Committee, the Committee’s rule proposal for its consideration. 5
Rule 7:5-2. Motion to suppress evidence
(a) Jurisdiction. The municipal court shall entertain motions to suppress evidence seized with a warrant issued by a municipal court judge or without a warrant in matters within its trial jurisdiction on notice to the prosecuting attorney and, if the county prosecutor is not the prosecuting attorney, also to the county prosecutor. A motion to suppress evidence seized pursuant a warrant and motions to suppress evidence seized without a warrant, but [I]n matters beyond the trial jurisdiction of municipal courts, and in matters where a search warrant was issued by a Superior Court Judge, a motion to suppress evidence shall be made and heard in the Superior Court.
(b) Procedure. Written briefs in support of and opposition to the motion to suppress shall be filed only in the discretion of the judge, who shall determine the briefing schedule, if briefs are permitted. All motions to suppress shall be heard before the start of the trial. If the search was made with a warrant, a brief stating the facts and arguments in support of the motion shall be submitted with the notice of motion. The State shall submit a brief stating the facts and arguments in support of the search, within a time as determined by the judge, but no less than 10 days after submission of the motion. If the search was made without a warrant, written briefs in support of and in opposition to the motion to suppress shall be filed either voluntarily or in the discretion of the judge, who shall determine the briefing schedule. All motions to suppress shall be heard before the start of the trial. If the municipal court having jurisdiction over the motion to suppress evidence seized with a warrant has more than one municipal court judge, the motion shall be heard by a judge other than the judge who issued the warrant, such judge to be designated by the chief judge for that municipal court. If the municipal court having jurisdiction of the motion to suppress seized with a warrant has only one judge, who issued the warrant, the motion to suppress shall be heard by the Presiding Municipal Court Judge for the vicinage, or such municipal court judge in the vicinage that the Assignment Judge shall designate.
(c) No change.
(d) No change
(e) Effect of Irregularity in Warrant. In the absence of bad faith, no search or seizure made with a search warrant shall be deemed unlawful because of technical insufficiencies or irregularities in the warrant or in the papers or proceedings to obtain it, or in its execution.