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NEW YORK SEARCH AND SEIZURE – ONCE REASON FOR STOP OF VEHICLE IS ADDRESSED, POLICE CANNOT CONTINUE TO DETAIN OR ASK TO SEARCH VEHICLE

An issue sometimes arises in New York when the police stop a vehicle for a traffic violation or other legitimate reason but continue to detain the driver after the ticket has been issued or other legitimate police concerns have been addressed. Where a driver is stopped for a traffic infraction and issued a ticket, it is improper for the officer to then ask for permission to search the car. At that point, the request to search exceeds the scope of the reasonable detention of the motorist for the traffic infraction. People v. Banks, 85 N.Y.2d 558, 626 N.Y.S.2d 986, 650 N.E.2d 833 (1995).
Furthermore, where a roving border patrol officer stops a vehicle he or she suspects contains illegal aliens, it is improper to ask to search the trunk once that officer determines that the vehicle does not contain illegal aliens. To do so would exceed the scope of the stop. People v. LaRose, 5 Misc.3d 621 (St. Lawrence Co.Ct. 2004). In LaRose, the County Court held that a roving border patrol agent could make an investigatory stop of a vehicle with Texas plates observed near the Canadian border making “improbable” turns (whatever that means).
Generally, investigatory stops are illegal if they are not based upon reasonable cause to believe that a traffic infraction has occurred. People v. Ingle, 36 N.Y.2d 413 (1975). In fact, in Ingle, the Court held that it was improper for the officer to stop the car because of its unusual appearance. Therefore, it would appear that the even initial stop in LaRose was illegal because the officer admitted it was not based upon reasonable cause to believe a traffic infraction had been committed but instead was based upon the officer’s belief that it was unusual to see a car with Texas plates near the Canadian border.
However, the LaRose decision relied upon a United States Supreme Court decision which held that where an officer’s observations lead him reasonably to suspect that a particular vehicle may contain illegal aliens, the government interest at stake may justify the minimal intrusion of a brief investigatory stop. U.S. v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975).
For more information about this, and other criminal defense issues, please contact Tilem & Campbell toll free at 1-877-377-8666 or visit us on the web at www.tilemandcampbell.com.