Who is Susan Wigenton? NJ judge's ruling trolled for 'Fourth Amendment implications of friends with benefits'

While police officers had a warrant for the accused's arrest, they did not have one to search his home. In this case, his 'home' extended to the residence of his 'friend with benefits'


                            Who is Susan Wigenton? NJ judge's ruling trolled for 'Fourth Amendment implications of friends with benefits'
US District Judge Susan D Wigenton said a ‘friend with benefits’ has the same rights inside their partner’s home as a boyfriend or girlfriend under the Fourth Amendment (law.shu.edu)

A judge in New Jersey has ruled that a ‘friend with benefits’ has the same rights inside their partner’s home as a boyfriend or girlfriend – to not be searched without a warrant. 

The ruling by Judge Susan D Wigenton came on May 13, in the case of a man charged with dealing heroin and weapons who was arrested at the residence of his "friend with benefits" -- someone he had slept with only once before, the Daily Mail reported.

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Lawyers representing Najee Brantley, 28, argued the legality of their client's July 2018 arrest, when authorities seized a Gucci fanny pack containing 109 vials of heroin and a semi-automatic handgun. While Paterson police officers had a warrant for Brantley's arrest, they did not have one to search his home. In this case, his 'home' extended to the residence of his 'friend with benefits,' according to the newspaper report.

Prosecutors had argued that because Brantley was at the home of a ‘friend with benefits’, Bahjane Reels, he was not entitled to Fourth Amendment protections – which guard against searches of personal goods inside a person’s home without a warrant.

According to Wigenton, however, Brantley's lawyers had legitimate grounds to challenge the seizure if the warrant did not cover it. "This court accepts that the defendant was more than a short-term guest at Ms Reel's apartment and thus had standing to challenge any subsequent warrantless search of his belongings," the judge said.

"To the extent that the Government suggests that the defendant's 'friends with benefits' relationship categorically fails to merit the protection of an 'overnight guest', this court disagrees." Both Brantley and Reels were arrested on July 26, 2018. Brantley was reportedly charged with narcotics and firearms offenses, for which he had several outstanding warrants.

He was last arrested in 2015 for selling heroin near a school and reportedly had felony convictions. Meanwhile, Reels was arrested on "hindering apprehension charges," as per the newspaper report.

During interrogation, both Brantley and Reels told detectives that their relationship was a casual one. He said she wasn't his girlfriend and that it was only the second time he had stayed over.

"Me and him haven't been talking and he hit me up saying that, um, he needed somewhere to stay," she said, per court transcripts obtained by the Daily Mail. "And me being the person that I am, I told him come on."

Police arrived at Reels' apartment, located four blocks from the intersection of Rosa Parks Boulevard and Putnam Street, at about 10 am. They had received an anonymous tip that Brantley was there, just minutes before. Reels opened the door to the officers and headed straight into the bedroom, where Brantley was found hiding under the bed wearing just his boxer shorts. 

When authorities handcuffed him and asked him to put some clothes on, he gestured to his black joggers and t-shirt in a corner. An officer lifted them up to find the Gucci fanny pack containing the drugs and the firearm.

Brantley has remained in jail ever since his 2018 arrest. His trial was originally slated to take place in April 2020, but was delayed due to the ongoing health crisis.

Netizens react

Netizens poked fun at Judge Wigenton's unprecedented decision to legally recognize 'friends with benefits'. "Wondering how many student notes will be published in 2022 about the Fourth Amendment implications of FWB," Berkley law professor Orin Kerr tweeted."Relationship Status: Has Standing," another Twitter user quipped. "Just as the framers envisioned!" a third added.



 

 



 

 



 

Who is Susan D Wigenton?

Born on October 12, 1962, in Neptune Township, New Jersey, Wigenton grew up with three brothers and their pastor father. In 1984, she graduated from Norfolk State University with her Bachelor of Arts degree and three years later, she obtained her Juris Doctor from The College of William & Mary Law School.

After serving as a US Magistrate for NJ from 2000 to 2006, she was confirmed by the Senate to be a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Wigenton famously convicted Andrew Auernheimer on two counts of alleged cybercrime, albeit the conviction was later reversed for improper venue under the Sixth Amendment. She currently presiding over the trial concerning the Fort Lee lane closure scandal dubbed as 'Bridgegate.'