- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - An Atlantic City police officer was justified in searching a casino hotel room without a warrant, finding a gun he thought might have been used in an armed robbery, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The high court’s 7-0 ruling reversed two lower courts that had suppressed the evidence from the March 2012 search at the Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino.

According to court filings, Officer James Armstrong responded to a report that a casino patron had been robbed at gunpoint. Believing a gunman could be at large, Armstrong didn’t view surveillance video that showed the victim in the company of several other people, but instead relied on descriptions of the video from casino security officers.

Armstrong summoned a SWAT team and went to a room where surveillance footage had showed the robbery victim entering with several others and, later, leaving alone. The door was slightly open and when the team entered, a gun was visible in an open gym bag. Dontae Hathaway, to whom the room was registered, was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon.

A trial court and an appeals court ruled the search was unconstitutional because Armstrong had relied on unverified information from the casino patron and therefore hadn’t established probable cause.

Tuesday’s ruling held that the emergent circumstances were sufficient to waive the need to obtain a search warrant.

“The emergency confronting the officers relieved them of the need to obtain a warrant for the purpose of entering the room for the limited mission of assuring that neither a victim nor a gunman was there,” Justice Barry Albin wrote.

The case was sent back to the trial court for a new evidence hearing.


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