Recently, an appellate court issued an opinion in a New York criminal defendant’s appeal, arguing that a trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence found in his vehicle. According to the court’s opinion, police were involved in a high-speed chase with the defendant that ended when the defendant crashed his car into a marsh. Police arrested the defendant, and a private company towed his vehicle. Per the towing service’s protocol, the defendant’s vehicle was inventoried. During the inventory, employees discovered $10,000 worth of automotive tools in a nylon bag. The employees believed that the tools were stolen and contacted the police. An investigator was aware that a local automotive store was burglarized recently and noticed one of the drills inside the bag. The investigator walked around the vehicle and noticed other similar items in plain view. The police then obtained a warrant to search the vehicle, where they found numerous reported stolen items.
Before trial, the defendant requested to proceed pro se and suppress the evidence. The court granted the request and proceeded with a Mapp hearing. A Mapp hearing is relevant when a defendant contests the admissibility of physical evidence that law enforcement obtained during an illegal search. If a judge finds that the evidence was acquired illegally, the prosecutor cannot use the physical evidence obtained during the search against the defendant.
In this case, during the Mapp hearing, the officer testified that he ran the defendant’s license plate and discovered that his license and registration was expired. However, when he turned on his emergency lights, the defendant did not respond and then fled. After police detained the defendant, they noticed the items in the vehicle but did not seize any of the tools. The court concluded that the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. They reasoned that the arresting officer was permitted to run a license and registration check through the police database, even without suspicion of criminal activity. Moreover, the defendant’s failure to stop and then flee provided officers with probable cause to detain him.