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Articles Posted in GUN CRIMES

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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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A police officer cannot stop a pedestrian or motorist for just any reason. New York criminal law requires that an officer possesses reasonable suspicion before initiating a pedestrian stop or motor-vehicle stop. Specifically, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that “a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed.” An officer’s reasonable suspicion cannot rest on a “hunch,” and must be supported by articulable facts.

In a recent New York gun crime case, a state appellate court issued an opinion discussing the concept of reasonable suspicion and whether the officer that arrested the defendant for a gun while on a public bus possessed such suspicion when he asked the defendant if he had a gun. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer did possess a reasonable suspicion and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, police officers responded to a call for a shooting. Upon arrival, police located a gun-shot victim, who described the alleged shooter as a male wearing all black clothing, including a black hoodie. The victim also told the officers that the alleged shooter got on a bus at a nearby stop.

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Recently, a New York state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case discussing the concept of constructive possession as well as the state’s “automobile presumption.” Ultimately, the court concluded that the jury’s verdict finding that the defendant possessed the gun was supported by the evidence and that the lower court’s instruction to the jury was appropriate under the circumstances.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, during routine patrol police officers observed a van with a missing tail light and initiated a traffic stop. The van did not stop, and sped away. Police officers followed the van and watched as a black object was thrown out of the rear passenger door. The officers continued to follow the van until it stopped, at which point an unidentified man ran from the van. The defendant exited the van and was arrested by police. Police later went back to obtain the object that was discarded from the van, and discovered that it was a shotgun. A shotgun shell was found during a search of the vehicle.

The case proceeded to trial, and at the conclusion of the evidence the court instructed the jury on the automobile presumption, which states that the presence of a gun inside a vehicle is presumed to belong to each person inside the vehicle unless the vehicle was stolen or the weapon was found on one of the occupants. The automobile presumption is an application of a legal theory called “constructive possession” which allows a jury to infer a defendant possessed an object based on the surrounding facts.

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A New York state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun case presenting an interesting issue. Specifically, the case requires the court to determine if the defendant’s arrest was illegal because a U.S. Customs agent initiated a traffic stop outside of his jurisdiction and without authority to conduct the stop.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a U.S. Customs agent was traveling on the highway in an unmarked truck when he observed the defendant driving dangerously. After the agent unsuccessfully tried to reach police through the radio in his vehicle, he called 911. As the agent was on hold with 911, the defendant’s vehicle exited the highway.

The agent continued to follow the defendant and eventually engaged his vehicle’s emergency overhead lights to stop the defendant. The defendant stopped, and the agent waited for on-duty officers to arrive, at which point the agent was sent home. During a search of the defendant’s car, a gun was found. The defendant was charged with criminal possession of a firearm.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun possession case discussing two important concepts that frequently come up in any case involving a possessory offense, including New York drug crimes. Ultimately, the court concluded that the police officers acted appropriately and it denied the defendant’s motion to suppress a gun that was found in the trunk of his car.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a firearm after police officers discovered a handgun in the trunk of a car the defendant was driving. According to the court’s written opinion, the police officers claimed that they initially approached the vehicle to request information from another man whose entire upper body was inside the trunk. As the officers approached the car, they noticed a gun in the trunk in plain view. The officers seized the weapon and arrested the defendant.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that the police were not justified in their approach of the vehicle and anything stemming from that illegal approach should be suppressed. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress and the defendant appealed.

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