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Recently, an appellate court in New York ruled on a defendant’s appeal in a case involving assault, manslaughter, and reckless endangerment. The defendant in this case argued that the search warrant leading officers to incriminating evidence against him was invalid and that his guilty verdict should be reversed. On appeal, the court disagreed, deciding that the warrant was valid and that the officers did indeed have probable cause to search the defendant. The defendant’s appeal was ultimately denied.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was driving early one morning in March 2015 when he collided head-on with a tractor-trailer. Police reports indicated that the defendant had been driving in the opposite direction of traffic at 75 miles per hour and that he had consumed several alcoholic beverages before driving. Tragically, two of the passengers in the defendant’s car died from injuries sustained in the accident.

A police officer then applied for a warrant to gain access to the defendant’s blood vials that had been drawn immediately after the accident. The criminal court issued the warrant, and the officer confirmed that the defendant was intoxicated while operating his vehicle.

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In a recent New York case involving the illegal possession of a firearm, the court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress physical evidence. In the appeal, the defendant argued that the initial police pursuit of the defendant that led to the recovery of the evidence in question was not legal, therefore barring the use of the gun at trial. The appeals court denied his motion, finding first that the police pursuit was lawful, and as a result, the motion to suppress was denied.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the police officer was engaged in his normal duties when he was patrolling near the Woodside Houses, a New York City Housing Authority complex, in Woodside, Queens. The officer then observed a group of three or four individuals gathered together on a bench and recognized one of them, the defendant, as the subject of two bench warrants that he had received and reviewed prior to March 16. Both bench warrants were in connection with two pending criminal proceedings. Each contained a photograph of the defendant and identifying physical characteristics, including height, weight, age, and race. As the officer and the defendant made eye contact, the defendant began running towards a nearby building.

The officer then observed the defendant make a motion towards the elevator before disappearing into the stairwell. Despite sweeping the building, the police officers were unable to locate the defendant. The officers then referred to video surveillance footage of the building and discovered that the defendant had disposed of a handgun in the elevator before running into the stairwell. An inspection of the elevator revealed a handgun in the shaft. Several days later, the defendant turned himself in.

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In a recent New York criminal case, the defendant successfully filed a motion to suppress physical evidence. The defendant was charged with robbery in the second degree, robbery in the third degree, grand larceny in the fourth degree (five counts), criminal possession of stolen property in the fourth degree (four counts), criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree (two counts), criminal mischief in the fourth degree, possession of burglar’s tools (three counts), obstructing governmental administration in the second degree, resisting arrest, unlawful fleeing a police officer in a motor vehicle in the third degree, reckless driving, failing to comply with a police officer’s direction, failing to stop at a steady red signal, driving a vehicle on the left side of no-passing markers, failing to signal, driving in excess of the maximum speed limit, and operating a motor vehicle without a license.

In the appeal, the defendant argued that was subjected to an unconstitutional search and seizure during the frisk performed by an officer, when the officer removed a wallet from the defendant’s pocket, and again when the contents of the wallet were searched. As a result, the defendant argues that the wallet and its contents should be suppressed at trial. The appeals court granted his motion, vacating 14 of his counts, and ordering a new trial on those counts.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, police officers arrived at the scene of a reported robbery after the defendant allegedly confronted the complainant, claiming to have a weapon, and took the complainant’s wallet. When the police arrived, the defendant allegedly fled on foot, before entering a car and was later apprehended by police officers. The defendant was handcuffed, and a wallet was removed from his pocket. A police officer examined the contents of the wallet and determined that it was the complainant’s wallet. The defendant’s car was identified by police because as he allegedly entered the car, an officer broke the back window of the car so as to make it easier to identify the vehicle, and subsequently reported the vehicle information over the radio. After the defendant was apprehended, he was frisked to ensure officer safety, and the wallet was recovered.

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The US Constitution protects many rights of Americans accused of crimes. One of the critical protections of the Constitution is the confrontation clause. The Confrontation Clause is included in the 6th Amendment and states in pertinent part: “the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Enforcing the confrontation clause ensures that defendants are not convicted upon anonymous testimonies. Furthermore, the confrontation clause provides that a defendant or their attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses who offer testimony or evidence that the defendant is guilty of a crime.  Further, the confrontation clause prohibits the reliance on hearsay testimony to convict the accused.

Like most constitutional protections, the confrontation clause has its limits and exceptions, as evidenced by a recent New York Court of Appeals decision that affirmed a defendant’s murder conviction despite confrontation clause issues.

The defendant in the recently decided case was involved in a neighborhood fight with several acquaintances, when he allegedly went home, returned with a firearm, and shot into a crowd. Bullets fired by the defendant allegedly struck and killed a two-year-old child. Based on eyewitness testimony, authorities initially arrested another man for the crime. After further investigation and DNA analysis of clothing from the scene, police decided that the defendant was the actual shooter, and he was arrested and charged. The initial suspect quickly pleaded guilty to a gun charge and was released without any charges related to the murder.

In a recent New York criminal assault case, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his conviction of assault in the first degree. In the appeal, the defendant argued that the prosecution failed to prove his guilt by legally sufficient evidence because his intoxicated state when the crime was committed rendered him incapable of forming the requisite criminal intent. The appeals court denied his case, finding his claim unpreserved for appellate review. Further, the appeals court found that the evidence was legally sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant manifested the requisite criminal intent. Finally, the appeals court was satisfied that the verdict of guilt was not against the weight of the evidence.  Generally, voluntary intoxication, either by some drug or alcohol, is not a defense to a criminal prosecution except to the extent that it negates the required culpable mental state to commit the crime.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was involved in an altercation while intoxicated and was subsequently taken into custody by the police. The defendant raised several arguments on appeal. The defendant argued primarily that due to his intoxicated state when the crime was committed, he was incapable of forming the requisite criminal intent. The defendant also contended that the lower court erred in excluding a hearsay statement made to the police after the defendant was taken into custody. Further, the defendant claimed that beyond the hearsay issues, the lower court’s evidentiary ruling deprived him of his constitutional right to present a defense. Finally, the defendant argued that he was deprived of his federal or state constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel.

Earlier this month, a federal court in New York issued an opinion in a burglary and larceny case, ruling on the defendant’s appeal of his motion to suppress. According to the defendant, the lower court had mistakenly denied his motion to suppress physical evidence as well as statements he made to police officers during an encounter in October 2018. The court ended up ruling in the State’s favor, deciding that the evidence should not have been suppressed and that the lower court was indeed correct in its ruling.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, early one morning in October 2018, an off-duty officer reported seeing a parked vehicle with one door open and no one in the general vicinity of the car. Two police officers drove to the scene and immediately saw three occupants inside the vehicle. Smelling burnt marijuana, the officers approached the car and asked the occupants what they were doing. The driver responded that they had been smoking marijuana, and the officers asked the occupants to exit the vehicle.

Recently, the New York Appellate Division, Third Department issued an opinion in a case involving a defendant’s attempt to reverse his conviction for a gun crime. On appeal, the defendant asked the court to review the evidence from trial and come to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s guilty verdict. After going through both the evidence from trial as well as the defendant’s argument on appeal, the court disagreed with the defendant and ultimately concluding that the evidence was sufficient and that the defendant’s appeal should be denied.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant activated a security alarm while he was on his way out of a sporting goods store in May 2017. Security officers immediately came to the defendant and asked him to remove his backpack so that he could walk by the sensor. Again, the defendant set off alarms. Eventually, a security guard asked the defendant to empty his pockets, and the defendant revealed four boxes of ammunition that he had stolen.

The defendant was taken to the police station, and officers found a slungshot in his backpack when they searched the items he had on his person. A few hours later, the defendant’s granddaughter, with whom he was staying, turned over the defendant’s belongings to the police. In those belongings, the officers found a firearm. Upon searching a storage unit that belonged to the defendant, the officers also found four firearms, ammunition, and three additional slungshots.

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In a recent case decided in a New York appellate court, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his conviction for criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. On appeal, one of the defendant’s main arguments was that the trial court had improperly denied his motion to suppress; according to him, evidence of the gun he possessed was unfairly used against him during trial and that under the exclusionary rule the fruit of an unlawful search should not be used as evidence. Disagreeing with the defendant, the court denied the appeal.

Facts of the Case

The opinion included a retelling of the following facts: the defendant in this case was in his car one day in 2017 when the police pulled him over. According to the opinion, the police had received a 911 call that the defendant, who was a parolee wanted on an outstanding warrant, had been spotted as a passenger in a certain vehicle. The officers tracked down the car and followed it, eventually pulling the defendant over to investigate.

In a recent case involving a New York drug crime, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his conviction of three counts of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree and three counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree. In the appeal, the defendant argued that statements taken in violation of his Miranda rights should have been suppressed at trial. The appeals court denied his case, finding the defendant’s spontaneous statements were made outside of custodial interrogation and the officers were permitted to question him in order to best respond to his urgent medical needs.  Generally, for a statement yo be suppressed because Miranda warnings were not given, the statement in question must be the result of “custodial interrogation.”  That is a statement that was made in response to a question while the person being questioned is in “custody” as opposed to perhaps bein detained temporarily for investigation.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was arrested following an investigation by law enforcement officials into a suspected drug smuggling and sale operation. Operating under information from a confidential informant, law enforcement officials surveilled and observed several drug transactions where the defendant sold drugs to the confidential informant. In response, a search warrant was executed and physical evidence was recovered. The defendant was taken into custody and transported to a correctional facility. At the correctional facility, the officers observed the defendant to be sweating, warm to the touch, and spitting out a chewed plastic bag. These observations gave rise to a reasonable inference that the defendant may need medical attention because he had consumed narcotics.

The Decision

The defendant raised several arguments on appeal. The defendant argued statements he made to law enforcement prior to being notified of his Miranda rights should be suppressed. Additionally, the defendant argued the sentence issued by the county court penalized him for exercising his right to a jury trial. According to the defendant, statements made to law enforcement officers as he was transported to the correctional facility were during custodial interrogation and in violation of his Miranda rights. Further, the defendant argued statements taken by law enforcement officers at the correctional facility should also have been suppressed under Miranda.

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As we have discussed in the past often in New York criminal cases suppression of the evidence may be your best (or only defense.  As has been widely reported in the media, all charges were recently dismissed against one of our clients after the Court granted our motion to controvert a search warrant and suppressed all of the evidence recovered during a search of our client’s house.  While in can be difficult to have a motion to controvert a search warrant granted by the Court, recent case law makes it easier to file and win such a motion.  When a motion to controvert a search warrant is granted, the Court is deciding that the search warrant was not valid and therefore the evidence obtained during the execution of the search warrant may not be used in Court.

Article 710 of the New York Criminal Procedure Law sets out the procedure to file a motion to suppress tangible evidence that is obtained  as a result of an “unlawful search and seizure.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which covers New York State has established that a warrant must at a minimum have three components.  One is that the warrant must identify the specific crime for which law enforcement has established probable cause.  Then the warrant must particularly describe the places that are allowed to be searched and the things that may be seized with their relationship to the crime.

New York’s highest Court, the New York Court of Appeals has further refined New York’s warrant requirement.  (See,  People v. Brown, 96 NY2d 80).  At a minimum the warrant must particularly describe the places to be searched and the things to be seized.  The idea is to ensure that the police have no discretion in either the places to be searched or the things that are permitted to be seized.  Exploratory warrants that give police the discretion to look around for evidence are unlawful.  If either of those elements are lacking the warrant may be invalid and any evidence suppressed.  This is true even though a Judge has signed and authorized the search warrant.

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