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Connecticut Supreme Court Rules 5 Days Past Due on Rent While Incarcerated Does Not Deprive Defendant of Expectation of Privacy in Home

by Anthony Accurso 

The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that the lower court erred in denying defendant’s search of his apartment where the police failed to obtain a warrant and defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his home, despite being a mere five days past due on his rent.

Jean Jacques signed a month-to-month lease for an apartment on June 10, 2015, and paid his first month’s rent. Five days later, he was arrested on drug charges. After his arrest, his probation officer and police searched his apartment and found circumstantial evidence linking him to the murder of Casey Chadwick. Police received an anonymous tip that Chadwick’s cellphone was hidden in the wall of Jacques’ bathroom. On July 15, 2015, five days after Jacques failed to pay his second month’s rent, police conducted a search of this apartment with the consent and assistance of the landlord. They found the victim’s phone and some drugs in the bathroom wall.

Prior to trial, Jacques moved to suppress the evidence recovered during the warrantless search, including the cellphone. His motion was denied on the basis that he had failed to show an interest in the apartment when his rent was late, and he failed to have someone take care of it for him. After being convicted of murder, Jacques was granted certiorari on the suppression issue. 

The Connecticut Supreme Court analyzed the case utilizing the two-prong test developed in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), where Jacques must (1) demonstrate a subjective expectation of privacy in the searched premises and (2) “whether the expectation is one that society would consider reasonable.”

Jacques had testified, and the landlord confirmed, that at the time of the search, the landlord had not notified Jacques that he was repossessing the apartment. Jacques further testified that had he received such a notice he would have contacted a friend to remove his property and that he fully expected to keep the apartment despite nonpayment of rent. Citing several cases from other jurisdictions, the Court determined that mere failure to pay his rent for five days did not result in the loss of his expectation of privacy. As such, the Court concluded that Jacques had a subjective expectation of privacy.

Further, the expectation is objective, meeting the second prong, according to the Court. It cited various laws governing the eviction process of several states, including Connecticut, under which the eviction process could not have begun under Connecticut law until at least nine days of nonpayment had elapsed, as well as several court rulings where mere nonpayment of rent, coupled with imprisonment. The Court concluded that, under the facts of the case, Jacques had a reasonable expectation of privacy “in the apartment at the time of the search.” Thus, he met his burden under Katz, so the Court ruled that the trial court improperly denied Jacques’ motion to suppress.

Accordingly, the Court reversed his conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. See: State v. Jacques, 210 A.3d 533 (Conn. 2019). 

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