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As gun rights lawyers we try to keep the public updated on significant changes to New York gun laws.  Several new laws are going into effect in New York and gun owners need to be aware.

First, a new gun storage law was passed which makes it a misdemeanor for a gun owner that lives with children under 16 to leave the gun unlocked.  The measure amends penal law section 265.45 and leaving a gun unlocked when children live in the home is a class “A” misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail.  In addition, a new penal law section was added 265.50 which makes it a violation, punishable by 15 days in jail to leave a gun unlocked even if there are no children in the home.

Both of these safe storage laws are likely to be challenged and struck down because the United States Supreme Court has made it clear that the Second Amendment protects the right of a person to have a gun for self-defense.   By requiring that guns in your home be locked, the government is specifically preventing you from having an accessible gun for self defense.

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Guns, ammunition and magazines that were suppressed by the Judge

New York, Second Amendment attorney and NRA  Firearms instructor Peter Tilem scored a major victory in Rockland County Court earlier today, when the Judge holding a suppression hearing ruled that there was no probable cause for the arrest of his client and ordered 13 guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and high capacity magazines, called “high capacity ammunition feeding devices” suppressed, meaning that they could not be used as evidence at trial because of the fact that they were illegally seized.  The decision came after an intense suppression hearing in Rockland County Court where two senior police officers testified about the circumstances surrounding the arrest and interrogation of both individuals charged in a 12 count indictment.

Following reports of shots fired on July 8, 2018, in the area of the New York – New Jersey border in Rockland County, police from both New Jersey and New York police departments located three individuals firing weapons which were lawfully purchased and possessed in New Jersey.  The handguns were unlicensed in New York and the individuals were found less than a 1/4 mile over the border in New York.  In addition, some of the weapons which were lawful in New Jersey violated New York’s “Safe Act” and magazines that were legal in New Jersey violated New York’s ban on magazines capable of accepting more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

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Whether you are a resident of New York state, or are just visiting, you are expected to know and follow all state and federal laws. This is particularly important for criminal laws and gun laws.  But even the courts can sometimes have a hard time deciding which acts are unlawful and what a criminal statute requires. The Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in a case involving the immigration status of a criminal defendant and what the government is required to prove.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was present in the United States on an F-1 student visa. He was dismissed from the university he was attending in December 2014, and his student visa status was terminated in February 2015. After his status was terminated, he stayed in the United States. Later that year, he went to a shooting range, bought ammunition, and rented a firearm for an hour. He was staying at a hotel, and several days later, an employee told police that he had been acting strangely. The FBI spoke with him, and he admitted to firing a firearm at the shooting range. The police searched his hotel room and also found the rest of the ammunition he had bought. The defendant was charged with two counts under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5)(A).

Under that statute, it is unlawful for a person “who, being an alien . . . is illegally or unlawfully in the United States … to ship or transport in interstate or foreign commerce, or possess in or affecting commerce, any firearm or ammunition.” 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5)(A). If found guilty, a person can be sentenced to a fine, and up to ten years imprisonment.

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Recently, in a New York gun possession case, a state appellate court issued a written opinion discussing whether the police officers’ approach of the defendant, as well as their subsequent investigation, was supported by reasonable suspicion and probable cause. Ultimately, the court determined that the officers’ initial approach was justified under the “common-law right to inquire,” and that the officers’ observations of the defendant as they approached gave rise to probable cause. Thus, the court affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

According to the court’s opinion, two police officers were on routine patrol. There had been numerous reports of shootings in the area. While on patrol, the officers received a tip that a black male with a bushy beard and dreadlocks had a gun and was inside a particular residence. The officers later observed the defendant, who matched the physical description given by the tipster, leaving the residence. As the officers approached the defendant, he placed his hand on his waist and fled. As the officers were chasing the defendant, they witnessed him discard a gun.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to approach him. It was this illegal approach, the defendant argued, that led to him grabbing his waist and fleeing.

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Often in a New York murder case the court may need to determine if the police officers’ recovery of the alleged murder weapon violated the defendant’s constitutional rights.  Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York murder case requiring the court to determine that issue. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officers did not have the level of suspicion necessary to stop the car in which the defendant was a passenger. Thus, the court determined that the stop violated the defendant’s rights and suppressed the gun recovered as a result of that stop.

According to the court’s opinion, on October 2, 2011, someone entered a residence, shooting and killing one of the occupants. Two days later, an anonymous person called into 911, reporting that there were several males “suspiciously” going in and out of a U-Haul trailer. The males were described as black and Hispanic. The caller stated that three of the males were wearing a black sweatshirt, a brown hoodie, and a red hoodie.

Police officers arrived at the scene, but did not find a U-Haul truck on location. However, while the officers were still in the area, they saw a U-Haul truck drive by. A black male in a brown hoodie was driving the truck. Police stopped and searched the truck, recovering a gun that was later tied to the murder. The defendant, who was a passenger in the truck, gave a statement indicating that he shot the victim after the victim reached for his gun. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, which was denied by the trial court. The defendant was ultimately found guilty of second-degree murder, and appealed.

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Recently, a state court issued an opinion in a New York gun case discussing the importance that police follow protocol when conducting identification procedures after the commission of a crime. The case illustrates the concept that an improperly performed identification procedure can be unduly suggestive, making any identification that was made by the crime victim inadmissible.

After police receive a report of a crime and locate a suspect, there are a number of different ways in which detectives can administer an identification procedure. Below is a list of a few common identification procedures:

  • Line-Up: In a line-up, the suspect (also called the “prime”) is lined up among several fillers, and the witness, who is often behind two-way glass, is asked if they recognize the person who committed the offense.
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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case, holding that the lower court improperly denied the defendant’s motion on the basis that he did not have standing to suppress the gun. The case also presented the issue of whether the lower court properly prevented the defendant from asking the arresting officer about a previous civil case that had settled.

What Is Standing?

Standing refers to a party’s ability to bring a claim or file a motion. In the context of New York search and seizure law, the prosecution will often argue that a defendant does not have standing to argue for suppression of an item because the item was discovered without infringing on the defendant’s constitutional rights.

A typical example of where a defendant may not have standing is when an object is in plain view. If an object is in plain view, a defendant does not have standing to argue that the motion should be suppressed because the defendant does not have a privacy interest in something that is readily visible by the public.

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As Second Amendment attorney Peter H. Tilem reported in a blog on April 24, 2016, New York and New Jersey’s outright ban on stun guns and tasers were unconstitutional.  stungunNow today, a Federal District Judge in upstate New York confirmed that opinion and enjoined the New York State Police from enforcing New York Penal Law sec 265.01 (1) as it applies to “Electronic Dart Guns” and “Electronic Stun Guns.”  The case entitled Avitabile v. Beach was decided earlier today by US District Judge David N. Hurd of the United States District Court for the Northern District in New York.  While the case is not necessarily binding in New York City, the case applies the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Caetano v. Massachusetts, which struck down the Massachusetts state ban on stun guns.

The issue actually began with the famous Second Amendment Case of Heller which was decided in 2008.  In knocking out a ban on handguns in Washington DC, the US Supreme Court in Heller ruled that the Second Amendment applied to “bearable” arms.  The Caetano decision, in knocking down a stun gun conviction in Massachusetts, made it very clear that a stun gun was a bearable arm as that term was used in Heller.

Besides being illegal, bans on stun guns and tasers are inherently illogical.  All states permit the possession of handguns to a degree.  Even New Jersey and New York City which effectively ban the possession of handguns outside the home, permit handgun possession in the home, with the appropriate license (in New York).  However, prior to today’s ruling, New York and New Jersey have a complete and total ban on the civilian possession of stun guns and tasers which are non-lethal.  This complete and total ban includes both possession inside the home and outside the home and does not even permit possession with a license.

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Earlier this month, a court issued a written opinion in a New York gun possession case discussing the concept of constructive possession. Ultimately, the court concluded that the prosecution’s evidence was sufficient to establish that the defendant exercised “dominion and control” over the weapon. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

The Concept of Constructive Possession

Under New York criminal law it is illegal to possess certain items, such as some types of guns or drugs. To establish criminal liability for a possessory offense, the prosecution must be able to present evidence showing that the defendant was in possession of the item. In this context, possession can be actual or constructive.

Actual possession is established when an object is found on the defendant. Constructive possession, on the other hand, refers to when an object is not in the defendant’s actual possession, but it can be said that the defendant “exercised dominion or control” over the object. For example, it is under a constructive possession theory that someone can be charged for a gun found in the trunk of a car.

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Earlier this month, a New York appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York assault case involving a motion to suppress the weapon that the defendant allegedly used to assault the complaining witness. The case required the court to discuss a police officer’s legal authority to approach a citizen to investigate a potential crime. Ultimately, the court found that each of the officers’ actions were justified, and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were in the area of a recent shooting when they saw the defendant and another man “huddling” together. Evidently, there were no other people out on the street around the two men, and the defendant’s hand was in his pocket.

The police were operating without a description of the alleged shooter, and continued to the location of the shooting. After arriving, the officers turned around and began to approach the two men whom they had just passed. As the officers approached, they started walking away at a “high rate of speed.” While the defendant and his companion were walking away from the officers, the officers watched as the defendant discarded an object into an alleyway. The police officers detained the defendant without arresting him while one of the officers went to see what the defendant discarded. Once it was determined that the defendant had dropped a gun, the police arrested the defendant.

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