NEW YORK SEARCH & SEIZURE - TWO MEN LOOKING INTO THE TRUNK OF A VEHICLE FOLLOWED BY WHAT APPEARS TO BE AN EXCHANGE OF MONEY BETWEEN THE TWO MEN INSUFFICIENT BASIS TO SUBSEQUENTLY STOP CAR [People v. Cascio]
An issue that comes up very frequently in New York criminal cases is “when may the police properly stop a vehicle”? The intuition or hunch of an officer, even if it thereafter turns out to be correct, cannot justify a stop. Absent at least a reasonable suspicion that its occupants had been, are then, or about to be, engaged in criminal activity, the stopping of an automobile by the police constitutes an impermissible seizure. In addition, any contraband, such as drugs or guns, recovered as a result of improper police conduct may be suppressed.
For example, in People v. Cascio, 63 A.D.2d 183, the defendant had pleaded guilty to Assault in the Second Degree but appealed the denial of his suppression motion. Officers observed defendant and another man walk to the rear defendant’s parked car, open the trunk, look inside and then exchange what appeared to the officer to be money. Based upon that observation, the officers followed defendant’s vehicle and eventually attempted to pull it over. Defendant fled and a chase ensued. Ultimately the defendant crashed his vehicle, a struggle followed and marijuana was found in the vehicle.
The trial court denied defendant’s motion to suppress the seized evidence but the Appellate Court reversed finding that the record lacked any objective evidence of criminal activity. It was insufficient that the officer “felt” a crime was about to be committed. Therefore, the stop was illegal and the evidence found as a result of the stop should have been suppressed. Accordingly, the Appellate Court vacated defendant’s guilty plea and reversed his conviction for Assault in the Second Degree.
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