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Articles Posted in GUN CRIMES

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case, discussing the defendant’s claim that the lower court erred in failing to provide the jury with a requested instruction. Ultimately, the appellate court agreed with the defendant, awarding him a new trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police received a call stating that a man was shot. Police arrived on the scene, and found the defendant, bleeding from the back of the neck. Police entered the apartment, and found two guns. One of the guns, a submachine gun, was in an open drawer.

Several officers testified, as did the defendant. The testimony of each of the witnesses varied; however, the prosecution claimed that the defendant gave different stories to the responding officers and hospital staff. The prosecution proceeded under the theory that the defendant constructively possessed the firearm.

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As we wrote in our blog on September 11, 2017, we were of the legal opinion that the Mossberg Shockwave was legal to own and possess in New York.  Our opinion in 2017 was based upon the statutory definitions of a firearm, a pistol and a shotgun in New York as well as the opinions of the New Jersey State Police, the Suffolk County Police, and the BATFE.  However, up until last week no Court case had ever confirmed the opinion that Mossberg Shockwave is legal to own and possess in New York.  The reason that no Court case confirmed that opinion is because it appears that no one had been arrested for possession of a Mossberg Shockwave.  However, last week, as has been widely reported, a New York State Supreme Court Justice dismissed four counts in an indictment pertaining to the possession of two Mossberg Shockwaves in a person’s home that were discovered by the police who were executing a search warrant for computer equipment that was allegedly involved in an unrelated Harassment investigation.

Our client was originally indicted for possession of the two Shockwaves in New York City back in December 2018.  When our law firm was retained in May 2020, we immediately pointed out that although our client was indicted for criminal possession of two firearms the Shockwaves were not in fact firearms and that the ballistics report from the NYPD ballistics section that was used in the grand jury to prove that the client possessed operable firearms very specifically did not list the Shockwaves as firearms. Rather, the NYPD’s own ballistic expert described the Shockwaves as an “other weapon”, which is not prohibited by New York Law.  Despite the fact that the ballistics report described the Shockwaves as other weapons, the District Attorney’s Office submitted the ballistics report to the grand jury and used it to seek an indictment for possession of operable firearms.  Even after the District Attorney’s Office was caught in this blatant inconsistency and after we asked them to speak to their own expert who tested the Shockwaves, the District Attorney’s Office continued to demand that we file a written motion to dismiss, which was filed back in June.

In August, The prosecutor finally filed a written answer in which they consented to the dismissal of the Shockwave charges after reading our motion.  The client, had faced a mandatory minimum of three and one half years and had that possibility hanging over his head for more than 2 years until the charges were officially dismissed by the Supreme Court Justice, last week.

New York drug and gun offenses and convictions can have long-term repercussions, including lengthy prison sentences. Defendants must understand their rights after being arrested, charged, or convicted of a criminal offense. Additionally, it is vital that defendants understand the typical steps of a New York criminal case. Including, arraignment, pre-trial discovery and pre-trial motions, trial, and sentencing. An attorney is a critical resource during this complex process because decisions made during these steps may drastically change the outcome of a criminal case.

An appellate court recently issued a decision in the defendant’s appeal of his criminal conviction of possession of a weapon in the third degree. The case addressed several issues, including the validity of a court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to controvert a search warrant and suppress evidence. In this case, police officers pulled the defendant over for a defective headlight. The officer asked the defendant for his license and registration, and when the defendant rolled down his window, the officer detected the smell of marijuana. The defendant explained that he smoked marijuana earlier in the day. The officer shined his flashlight and noticed an expandable baton. The officer’s computer search revealed that the defendant had an arrest warrant; thus, the officer placed the defendant under arrest.

At the precinct, the officer told the defendant that a K-9 unit was searching the vehicle, at which point the defendant responded that “you can do that all you want, whatever’s in the car, the cars not registered to me, my prints aren’t on it.” The police then obtained and executed a search warrant on the car, where they discovered drugs and a weapon. At a suppression hearing, the court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence and statements to the officers. The defendant then challenged the search warrant; however, the court denied the defendant’s motion. The defendant pleaded guilty; however, on appeal, the defendant challenged his appeal waiver’s validity.

A state appellate court recently issued a decision in a New York gun case, involving a defendant’s appeal of a jury verdict, finding him guilty of criminal possession of a weapon. The defendant appealed the jury verdict arguing that the New York Supreme Court erred in refusing to suppress evidence of a gun that the police seized during the stop. The defendant argued that the court should have suppressed the evidence because the police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the car in which the defendant was a passenger.

According to testimony from the suppression hearing, an officer aiding another officer with a traffic stop heard several gunshots coming from north or northeast of the stop. The officer proceeded north, passing two intersections, but did not see any vehicles or pedestrians. When he passed through another intersection, he saw a vehicle with taillights moving slowly. The officer followed and stopped the car, stating that he was stopping the car to investigate whether anyone in the car committed a crime. The officer testified that there was less than a minute from when he heard the gunshot to when he saw the vehicle and less than two minutes from the gunshots to the stop.

Under the law, stops qualify as “seizures implicating the constitution” and require that the police officer has “reasonable suspicion” that the driver or any occupants in the vehicle committed a crime, are in the process of committing a crime, or about to commit a crime. Case law holds that vehicle stops are level three intrusions, which are forcible seizures. Level two intrusions are those that only require a “founded suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.” Courts must consider the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether police conduct was illegal.

On December 18, 2020,  gun owners were rocked by proposed guidance from the ATF on the evaluation of the legality of pistol braces.   This guidance was of particular concern to New York gun owners who had pistol braces attached to AR style receivers and had thought that the guns they owned were neither rifles nor handguns and thus believed that these “others”  fell outside  the scope of the Safe Act.  I was  contacted by a client this week, who by way of example had a, AR style gun that had an 18 inch barrel and a 26 inch overall length.  As far as the ATF is concerned the new guidance would have no effect on this gun since there was no concern about this being a short barreled rifle regulated by the National Firearms Act (NFA).  However,  if the ATF classified a pistol brace as a stock, then there would be a concern that under New York law, the gun would be considered a rifle that was subject to the restrictions of the Safe Act.

ATF December 18th Guidance

The problem that prompted this is that while initially one company received a letter from the ATF approving a specific pistol brace.  The pistol brace market had gotten crowded with products many of which had not been approved by the ATF.

Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case, requiring the court determine if the trial court properly granted the defendant’s motion to suppress a firearm he discarded as police were following him. Ultimately, the court held that the defendant was not seized when he tossed the gun. Thus, the lower court’s granting of the defendant’s motion was reversed.

The Defendant’s Arrest

According to the court’s opinion, an officer responded to a call for gunshots. As the officer arrived on the scene, he saw an unidentified person a few blocks away. The officer lost sight of the potential witness, but gave a description of the person over police radio. Another officer then encountered the defendant nearby. Initially, the officer did not consider the defendant a suspect. However, as the defendant went through a pedestrian cut-through, the officer followed in her vehicle. As the defendant reached the end of the alley, he tossed a gun and ran.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the weapon, as well as statements he made to law enforcement after his arrest. The defendant argued that he was seized without reasonable suspicion or probable cause when the officer followed him down the narrow pedestrian cut-through. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the prosecution appealed.

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Recently, the New York Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest Court, issued an opinion, in a New York gun case, which reversed a lower court’s denial of a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence a gun. The case arose after a police officer stopped the vehicle the defendant was traveling in after his patrol car’s mobile data terminal (MDT) notified him of a “similarity hit.” In response to the similarity hit, the police officer stopped the vehicle and noticed a handgun on the floor in front of the seat the defendant was occupying. The police officer arrested the defendant, even though the car was not registered to him, and he did not have a warrant. At trial, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence that the police officer obtained from the stop.

The police officer testified that it was part of his “routine” conduct to enter license plates into his car’s MDT. In some cases, such as the one at hand, a similarity hit will occur, which notifies an officer that there is a similarity between a person with a warrant and a vehicle’s registered owner. The officer explained that the MDT generates these similarity hits based on the registered owner’s name, date of birth, and aliases. He further testified that he believes that the MDT generates hits based on parameters he was unaware of. In this case, the officer received a similarity hit, and without any other information, he pulled the car over. The officer admitted that after pulling the car over, he did not believe the driver was the subject of the warrant because the driver was female and the subject of the similarity hit, the registered owner, was a male. After discovering the gun and arresting the defendant, he realized that the individual with the warrant did not match anyone in the vehicle, or the car’s registered owner. The defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the stop was based on the factual sufficiency of the basis of the stop.

Under New York law, if the state faces a sufficiency challenge, they must present evidence to establish that the stop was lawful. Generally, courts hold that vehicle stops are lawful if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle’s driver or occupants have committed or are in the process of committing a crime. However, the state must point to specific facts, in conjunction with logical deductions, that point to the stop’s lawfulness. In most cases, reasonable suspicion inquiries are a question of law and fact. However, in cases such as this, the question is whether the state’s evidence meets the “minimum showing”, and is, therefore, a question of law.

A state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case, last month,  requiring the court to determine if the police officers were justified in stopping the defendant’s vehicle for a traffic violation. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer lacked any basis to believe that a crime had occurred and there was no probable cause to stop the vehicle. Thus, the court held the defendant’s motion to suppress should have been granted and suppressed the firearm.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a state trooper ran the tags on the defendant’s vehicle. The response was: “CONFIRM RECORD WITH ORIGINATOR ** THE FOLLOWING HAS BEEN REPORTED AS AN IMPOUNDED VEHICLE —IT SHOULD NOT BE TREATED AS A STOLEN VEHICLE HIT — NO FURTHER ACTION SHOULD BE TAKEN BASED SOLELY UPON THIS IMPOUNDED RESPONSE **”

The trooper pulled the defendant over and, as he approached the vehicle, noticed a smell of marijuana and a burnt marijuana joint in the car. The defendant told the trooper that the car had previously been reported stolen, which may explain the message. The trooper searched both the defendant and the car, recovering marijuana and a loaded firearm under the driver’s seat.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case discussing the defendant’s claim that officers searched him without possessing the necessary probable cause or reasonable suspicion. After reviewing the evidence and applying the relevant law, the appellate court agreed, finding that the defendant’s motion to suppress should have been granted. As a result, the indictment against the defendant was dismissed.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers saw the defendant standing on the side of the road and mistook him for his brother, whom they knew had a warrant out for his arrest. As the officers approached the defendant, he fled on foot. Eventually, the officers caught up to the defendant and, upon searching him, found a loaded gun. Subsequently, the defendant made a statement admitting to possessing the gun.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant argued that the officers lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to approach him. The defendant asked the officers about the existence of the warrants and whether the warrants were still valid. However, the defendant did not specifically ask to see the warrants and the prosecution did not produce them. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant was later convicted.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case, requiring the court to review the lower court’s decision denying the defendant’s motion to suppress. After reviewing the facts and applicable legal principles, the court agreed with the court below, affirming the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress a firearm that he discarded while being chased by police officers.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a confidential informant told his parole officer that “two individuals would be in a specified area in a silver or gray Pontiac and would have a firearm in the vehicle.” Police officers traveled to the location, where they saw a vehicle matching the description provided by the informant.

While the police officers were following the car, they claim that the driver failed to signal at least 100 feet before making a turn. The officers pulled over the vehicle. The defendant was in the passenger seat. The officers asked the defendant several questions, claiming that he was slow to answer and seemed nervous. The officers asked the defendant out of the vehicle and immediately held his hands behind his back.

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