The 6-1 decision overturned an appellate court ruling and reinstated the drug conviction of a Manalapan man who had claimed the search was unconstitutional.
According to court documents, police suspected John Rockford was selling drugs from his house after they'd conducted surveillance for several days. They obtained a warrant that required them to knock and identify themselves before entering the home.
On the day of the search, police used a flash-bang device, which emits intense light and makes a loud noise, as a diversion outside the house. They then knocked and announced their presence before entering the home. Rockford and another man were standing in the driveway when the device was detonated.
An appeals court ruled the use of the device violated the terms of the warrant and excluded the drugs found during the search. But the state Supreme Court in its ruling today called the execution of the warrant "objectively reasonable and, thus, constitutional."
"The Court declines to adopt a bright-line rule against the use of a flash-bang device to execute a knock-and-announce search warrant," the majority wrote. "The objective reasonableness of law enforcement's execution of a warrant that includes the use of a flash-bang device should be determined on a case-by-case basis, considering the totality of the circumstances."
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia likened the search, which involved 12 police officers in three teams, to "a military raid on a compound instead of a drug search in a suburban neighborhood." She argued the use of the flash-bang device was inconsistent with the type of search warrant issued.