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Appeals Court Upholds Search Warrant in North Wildwood

Kevin T. Kelly-Pallanta

By Bill Barlow

NORTH WILDWOOD – Judges upheld a search warrant in a 2017 methamphetamine arrest, in North Wildwood, deciding the warrant was specific enough to allow the search.
Kevin T. Kelly-Pallanta faces three years in prison over the drug arrest. He sought to have evidence collected in a raid on his home, at 217 East 22nd Ave., June 6, 2017 dismissed. Reports at the time state police found about a half-ounce of the drug and a digital scale.
According to a July 15 Appellate Court decision, Kelly-Pallanta sought to have the evidence suppressed, arguing that the search warrant violated the requirements of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in that it was not sufficiently specific.
He also asserted that he was entitled to a Franks hearing, according to the court’s decision. In Franks v. Delaware, in 1978, the Supreme Court found, in essence, that if police obtain a search warrant by either deliberately or recklessly misrepresenting the facts that establish probable cause, the defendant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing.
In this instance, the appeal focuses on the other units in the same house. Kelly-Pallanta lived in the main unit, at 217 East 22nd Ave., which has separate downstairs apartments. He argued that the evidence was found in an upstairs bedroom that was not included in the request for a warrant.
According to the court documents, police sought a new search warrant before executing the first one, based on information from Detective Maurice Catarcio, with the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, about the inside of the home, to include the description of the vacant apartments downstairs.
As outlined in the court’s opinion, police can’t seek a blanket search warrant for multiple separate units within the same building. For instance, a search warrant for an upstairs apartment would not allow police access to the separate unit downstairs.
In this instance, the defendant argued that the third-floor bedroom, where the drugs were found, was not properly included in the warrant. In this, both the trial court and the appeals court found the bedroom was part of the main dwelling unit. The appeals court decision, written by Judges Carmen Messano and Francis Vernoia, found that while a search warrant needs to be specific, it does not require pinpoint accuracy.
The appellate judges upheld the trial court’s ruling that the search warrant was sufficient. The court found that the warrant specified the main dwelling unit, specifying that it was accessible up a flight of steps in the front and that the third-floor bedroom was part of that unit.
According to a report published in the Cape May County Herald at the time of the arrest, it was the result of a joint investigation with the North Wildwood Police Department and the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office Gangs, Guns, and Narcotics Task Force.
According to the court documents, an unnamed confidential informant went to the house twice to purchase methamphetamine, using money provided by the police. Officers watched the informant travel to the house and return with the drugs. In one instance, officers saw the informant enter the front door, while in the other, the informant went around back and was not seen entering.
The house is on a nondescript residential street and was sold, in 2017.
The court’s decision sends back to the lower court a question of whether Kelly-Pallanta should get credit for three days spent in the Cape May County Correctional Center, in August 2017, stating the court does not have a complete enough record to reach a decision.
According to the court documents, another individual living in the house also faced charges, but those were dropped after Kelly-Pallanta said she knew nothing of the drugs in the house.
To contact Bill Barlow, email bbarlow@cmcherald.com.

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