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THE POLICE MAY NOT STOP A VEHICLE TO QUESTION THE OCCUPANTS ABOUT THE WHEREABOUTS OF A FRIEND SUSPECTED OF PAST CRIMINAL ACTIVITY

In New York, the police may not stop your vehicle solely to ask you questions regarding the whereabouts of an individual wanted in connection with a past crime. In People v. Spencer, 84 N.Y.2d 749 (1995), the defendant was convicted of Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Third Degree and Criminal Possession of Marijuana in the Fourth Degree. The weapon and marijuana were found in defendant’s car after the police stopped him looking for information regarding the whereabouts of defendant’s friend who was wanted in connection with an assault that took place approximately forty hours earlier. The defendant appealed the denial of his suppression motion arguing that the police could not stop his vehicle for the sole purpose of requesting such information.
Noting that the right to request information does not include the right to unlawfully seize, the Court of Appeals agreed with the defendant holding that the stop was unreasonable. The Court noted that the Fourth Amendment does not permit the stopping of potential witnesses. However, noting that the police were investigating past criminal conduct, the Court insinuated the stop might have been legal if the police were investigating recent or ongoing crimes. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the Appellate Division’s order, granted defendant’s motion to suppress physical evidence and dismissed the indictment.
For more information about this or any other New York criminal law issue, please contact Tilem & Campbell toll free at 1-877-377-8666 or visit us on the web at www.tilemandcampbell.com.