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Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion reversing a lower court’s decision which denied a defendant’s motion to suppress the drugs that were recovered in a New York drug case. The case involved a traffic stop conducted by police officers who were investigating information that a vehicle would be transporting a large quantity of narcotics. Ultimately, the court concluded that the search of the defendant’s vehicle was unconstitutional based on the information the officers had at the time of the stop.

The Facts of the Case

Police officers intercepted communication indicating that a Ford Explorer would be transporting a large amount of drugs through a particular part of the state on a given night. That night, certain New York State Troopers were told to wait on the highway and stop the Ford Explorer as it passed.

Officers waited for six hours for the Ford Explorer. When they saw it approaching, they stopped the vehicle, arrested the defendant and her codefendant, and searched the car. Officers found a large amount of drugs. No law enforcement ever obtained or sought a warrant for the defendant’s arrest or the search of their vehicle.

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As the providers of the only pre-paid legal service for gun owners in New York, NY TAC DEFENSE, we are constantly monitoring the law as it pertains to gun ownership in New York.  A recent Connecticut case, decided earlier in the week, is worthy of reporting since Connecticut is in the Second Circuit with New York and this case will probably be reviewed by the Court of Appeals in the Second Circuit and any decision will likely become binding law in New York. In the case of Soukaneh v. Andrzejewski, Basel Soukaneh, sued a Waterbury Police Officer who stopped his vehicle one night.  The law suit was filed in the Federal district Court for the District of Connecticut.  Soukaneh alleged that when he was stopped he handed the police officer his driver’s license and gun license and indicated that he was armed.  The Police Officer reacted by handcuffing Mr. Soukaneh while he verified the authenticity of the gun license and while the officer searched the passenger compartment and trunk of the vehicle.

The police officer filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed.  Among his arguments were that he had probable cause to believe that Basel Soukaneh was in possession of a firearm without a permit until he was able to verify the validity of the permit.  Therefore, Police Officer Andzejewski thought he was justified in handcuffing and detaining Mr. Soukaneh.  The Court found this conduct to constitute a de facto arrest.  The Court strongly disagreed finding that since it was undisputed that the police officer found out that there was a gun in the car either at the same time or after the officer was given the license, that “no reasonable officer” could conclude that they possessed probable cause that Mr. Soukaneh was violating Connecticut law.

The Court likened the firearms license to a driver’s license and concluded that the same way it would be unconstitutional to presume that a driver’s license was invalid and to detain the driver until its validity was verified, it must be unconstitutional to presume that a firearms license was invalid and detain the gun owner until it was verified.  The Court found that a contrary finding would “eviscerate Fourth Amendment protections for lawfully armed individuals.”

Recently, a state appellate court released an opinion in a New York gun case requiring the court to determine whether it was legal for officers to obtain the defendant’s gun, ammunition, and DNA evidence after a police pursuit. Ultimately, the court determined that the officers gave contradicting testimony about the incident and ordered the suppression of evidence, the firearm, obtained from the police pursuit. The case illustrates the strict procedures that law enforcement must follow when investigating a crime or arresting an individual.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers observed an object bulging out of the defendant’s right waistband. One officer stepped out of the vehicle, causing the defendant to flee. Both officers testified with different versions of events. The first officer stated that she began running after the defendant and attempted to grab him, which led to the defendant dropping a gun. The second officer testified that the first officer attempted to grab the defendant before he began running, causing the defendant to drop the gun before the officer chased him.

The defendant was arrested, and a gun, ammunition, and the defendant’s DNA profile was recovered from the scene. Despite the different testimonies by the officers, the court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence.

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The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution prohibit law enforcement officers from unreasonably searching or seizing persons or property from citizens in the United States. This is an issue that should be explored by criminal defense lawyers who represent those charged with possessing contraband such as drug offenses or gun offenses.  The Fourth Amendment generally requires officers to obtain a warrant from a judge before searching someone’s home. To comply with legal precedent, warrants need to be specific and limited in scope so law enforcement officers do not exceed the authority given to them by the judge who issued a warrant. The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, recently reversed convictions of a defendant who was charged with drug offenses based on evidence obtained by a search outside the scope of a valid search warrant.

The defendant in the recently decided case was charged with drug and paraphernalia possession after police executed a search warrant on his home. The search warrant was limited to the defendant’s apartment and any shared common areas within the home. When performing the search authorized by the warrant, police officers entered a locked attic that was outside of the defendant’s apartment and found the drugs for which the defendant was charged. Before trial, the defendant attempted to have the evidence from the attic suppressed by the trial court, arguing that the locked attic was not part of the defendant’s apartment nor was it a shared common area in the home. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and he eventually pleaded guilty to the charges, subject to his right to appeal the court’s decision on the motion to suppress.

On appeal, the higher court questioned whether the locked attic was an area that was included in the search warrant. Because the attic was not a part of the defendant’s apartment, the court had to determine whether the attic was a shared common area of the home as described in the warrant. Because evidence suggested that the attic was locked before the search, the court found that it was not a common area of the home and that the search warrant did not authorize entry into the attic. As a result of this finding, the court ruled that the drug evidence found in the attic should not have been admitted at trial, and reversed the defendant’s convictions which were based upon that evidence.

A New York court recently issued an opinion addressing several questions stemming from a defendant’s New York driving while intoxicated charges. Amongst several issues, the court addressed whether New York’s fellow officer rule applied to the facts of the accused’s case. According to the record, a police sergeant received a call from an off-duty police officer about a reckless driver. The sergeant did not testify as to what information he received that led him to believe that the driver’s actions were reckless. Nonetheless, the sergeant followed the driver and observed him make two turns without signaling. At that point, the officer turned on his lights and tried to stop the driver. After stopping the defendant, the sergeant contacted a fellow officer to continue the investigation.

At issue is whether the officer was justified in asking the defendant’s “second-level questions.” The fellow officer rules allow a police officer to make an arrest even without personal knowledge to establish probable cause. The law would permit this if the officer acted “upon the direction or communication with “a “fellow officer” who has sufficient information to constitute probable cause. In these cases, the officers are permitted to ask “level one” questions. These questions are non-threatening inquiries about one’s identity, address, or destination.

Courts reviewing motions to suppress stemming from the fellow officer rule must engage in the two-pronged Aguilar-Spinelli test. This test requires courts to assess whether the information the officer acted upon is reliable. Next, the test evaluates whether the informing party possessed an “adequate basis of knowledge” for providing the information. While information received from a law enforcement officer is presumptively reliable, the People must still satisfy the second part of the test.

The New York and federal constitutions provide fundamental rights to all citizens. Among the most important are those contained in the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment generally protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Historically, this meant that police officers needed to obtain a warrant before searching a person, their belongings, or a place in which the person had a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a home.  The Exclusionary Rule prohibits the introduction into evidence and the use in Court of evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

However, over the years, courts realized that the warrant requirement was overly burdensome on law enforcement and created exceptions to the warrant requirement. For example, police officers who observed a crime occurring can arrest the person suspected of committing the crime and then conduct a limited search incident to that arrest. Of course, there are limits on the scope of a search incident to an arrest; one of which involves police officers searching a closed container after a lawful arrest.

A recent case illustrates how the plain view doctrine can play out. According to the court’s opinion, a defendant was arrested for criminal possession of a forged instrument. After arresting the defendant, the arresting officer pulled out a manila envelope from the defendant’s pocket. The envelope was closed, and the contents were not visible. However, the police officer opened the envelop enough to peek inside. Inside the envelope, the officer found additional incriminating evidence.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York kidnapping case. In its opinion, the court addressed the defendant’s motion to suppress physical evidence obtained when the officers executed a warrantless search of his home. The defendant also sought suppression of post-arrest statements he made to detectives.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers received a call indicating that the caller’s friend may have been kidnapped. Apparently, the defendant and several others allegedly kidnapped the complaining witness and called several of their friends, asking for a ransom. One friend recognized the caller’s voice as the defendant’s.

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York Drinking and Driving case discussing the standard courts use to determine whether a police officer’s actions were justified in stopping a parked car. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer’s stop of the defendant was valid, affirming the defendant’s convictions.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer was on routine patrol around 1:45 in the morning when he saw a vehicle parked in a gas station parking lot. The officer thought it was odd, considering the gas station was closed and pulled up to investigate.

As the officer passed the vehicle, he saw the defendant slumped over the steering wheel. The officer exited his car to “make sure the driver was alright.” Initially, the officer banged on the window, but the defendant remained still. The officer then opened the unlocked car door and shook the defendant until he came to. At this point, the officer could smell alcohol on the defendant’s breath, leading to the defendant’s arrest.

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An appellate court recently issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal of his New York murder conviction. At the core of the defendant’s appeal is whether the officers who took him into custody had probable cause to arrest him. Before the police officers took the defendant into custody, they interviewed several witnesses, including two accomplices. The witnesses stated that the defendant killed the victim. One of the witnesses stated that they overheard a call the defendant made to another person during the murder. The witness recounted that during the call, the defendant stated that he was killing the victim by strangulation. The witness further explained that he overheard the defendant state that the victim was bleeding but not dying. The defendant motioned to suppress the informant’s statements, and the court conducted a combined Huntley and Dunaway hearing.

In New York, defendants may argue various motions when they believe that police did not abide by the proper procedures to get evidence in the case.  Among the most common examples of motion to suppress hearings are Huntley and Dunaway hearings. Huntley hearings are proceedings to determine the admissibility of a defendant’s statement. During these proceedings, a criminal defendant’s attorney may argue that the defendant’s statements were made against their will due to pressure, threats, trickery, or without Miranda warnings. A Dunaway hearing is a motion to suppress evidence that authorities obtained from an illegal arrest or detention.

Arrests and detentions can stem from many different situations; in some cases, an officer witnesses a crime, and in other situations, someone reports the incident. The reporting individual may be a citizen informant, an anonymous tipster or an accomplice. Citizen informants are those that provide information and their identity, which constitutes the basis for probable cause. An anonymous tipster provides information about a crime but not information about themselves. Courts generally favor testimony from a citizen informant compared to that of an anonymous tipster. Anonymous informant’s tips often need substantiation and are often regarded as less reliable.  Tips from accomplices who are informing to curry favor with the prosecutor may similarly require corroboration.

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.

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