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Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York criminal case involving a question as to whether statements that the defendant made to Pennsylvania state troopers could be used against him in his New York arson case. Ultimately, the court concluded that the Pennsylvania State Troopers questioned the defendant in violation of his right to counsel. Thus, the court held that the statements should have been suppressed.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was under investigation for several arsons in New York. After detectives interviewed the defendant about one of the fires, the defendant fled to Pennsylvania. A short time later, Pennsylvania State Troopers arrested the defendant for an alleged arson offense that allegedly occurred in Pennsylvania. The defendant requested that the court appoint counsel.

Upon hearing about the defendant’s arrest, New York police traveled to Pennsylvania to interview the defendant. While New York police did not actually interview the defendant, they observed as Pennsylvania State Troopers asked the defendant questions about the New York arsons without the presence of defense counsel. The defendant made several statements regarding the New York arsons.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case involving the denial of the defendant’s pre-trial motion to suppress. Motions to suppress are often the most critical stage of a trial in cases involving guns or drugs, especially where the contraband item is found on the defendant. In this case, the court ultimately upheld the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress, finding that the defendant gave the officers consent to search his car.

Consent is one of the few major exceptions to the warrant requirement. Generally, law enforcement needs a warrant to conduct a search of a person or their belongings. To obtain a warrant, an officer must establish that there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed, and the search would turn up evidence of that crime. However, if a suspect consents to a search, that eliminates the need for an officer to obtain a warrant. To be valid, consent must be voluntary, and cannot be forced or coerced. Courts look to the surrounding circumstances to determine the validity of a suspect’s consent.

According to the court’s opinion, police received a 911 call stating that a man was banging on a hotel door with a gun. Police arrived and began to speak with the defendant outside the hotel room. He was not handcuffed at the time.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York burglary case requiring the court to determine whether a police officer’s actions violated the defendant’s rights prior to his arrest. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer lacked justification to stop the defendant, search his bag, and then transport him to the scene of the crime so that a show-up identification could be made. Thus, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers received a report of a burglary. Several officers went directly to the scene and others canvassed the area looking for a suspect. The description given by the caller stated only that the suspect was a male.

An officer saw the defendant walking with a cell phone and a bag a few blocks away from the scene. The officer asked the defendant what he was doing, to which the defendant responded he was looking through garbage cans. The officer searched the defendant’s bag and then told him that he was going to be transported to the scene. At the scene, the defendant was identified as the burglar.

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Police officers must have a justifiable reason when they decide to pull over a motorist and initiate a traffic stop. Typically, an officer must have either probable cause or a reasonable suspicion, depending on the surrounding circumstances. When the police pull over a driver without a sufficient reason, anything that an officer finds in a subsequent search of the vehicle is subject to a motion to suppress by a New York criminal lawyer.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that touches on this very issue and can have a dramatic effect on the enforcement of Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in New York.  Specifically, the question that the Court must answer in its upcoming opinion is whether it is reasonable for an officer to suspect that the registered owner of a vehicle is the one driving the vehicle, absent any information to the contrary.  This is critical, when a plate reader mounted on a police car shows that the registered owner of the car has a license that has been suspended or revoked.

The case arose when police officers ran the plates on the defendant’s vehicle. Upon doing so, the officers determined that the registered owner of the vehicle had a suspended license. Assuming that the person driving the car was the vehicle’s registered owner, the police officers pulled over the defendant. The officers confirmed that the defendant was also the registered owner of the vehicle, and they issued him a ticket.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York robbery case involving the defendant’s motion to suppress an identification made by the complaining witness, as well as statements made by the defendant after his arrest. Ultimately, the court held that because the prosecution failed to establish that the defendant’s arrest on an unrelated matter was supported by probable cause, the subsequent identification and statements were “fruit of the poisonous tree,” and must be suppressed.

According to the court’s opinion, a man was robbed in Queens. A day or two after the robbery, the assigned police officer provided the complaining witness with a photo lineup, where he identified the defendant. The officer filled out an identification card, which essentially put other police officers on notice that the defendant should be arrested. Several days later, the assigned officer was informed that the defendant was in custody based on an unrelated matter. The officer brought the complaining witness to the station, where he identified the defendant. The defendant then gave a statement to the police.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the witness’s identification, as well as the statement he made following his arrest. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the “fellow officer rule” justified that defendant’s arrest. Under the fellow officer rule, if an arresting officer lacks probable cause to arrest, the arrest may still be valid if the arresting officer makes the arrest based on communication with a fellow officer who had information justifying the arrest. The defendant was convicted of robbery and appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.

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In October 2019 we published an article about inventory searches and how the Court are reviewing such searches more carefully.  However, earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York credit card fraud case involving a search of the defendant’s belongings that occurred after he was arrested for an unrelated crime. The case is useful in that it illustrates the concept of an inventory search, which frequently is cited as a valid basis for searches that may otherwise be unsupported by probable cause.

The U.S. and New York constitutions provide citizens with certain rights. Among those rights are those contained in the Fourth Amendment, which states that citizens are to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Over time, courts have fleshed out the protections of the Fourth Amendment to mean that a police officer cannot conduct a search without a warrant.

Of course, over the years, courts have allowed several exceptions to the warrant requirement. Depending on the situation, there may be a lower burden that police officers must meet or, in some cases, police officers may not need any additional facts to support a search. For example, police do not need a warrant (or even probable cause) to seize an item that is in plain view. The concept behind the plain-view doctrine is that an officer is not conducting a “search” under the terms of the Fourth Amendment if he recovers something that readily observable and in plain view. Another example is the warrant exception involving vehicles. Courts have held that vehicles pose a unique concern for officers in that they are mobile, limiting officers’ ability to go retrieve a warrant. Thus, there is a relaxed standard for searching an automobile.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York firearms case discussing whether the police officer’s search of the defendant’s car was constitutionally sound. Ultimately, the court concluded that because the officers lacked probable cause to search the vehicle, anything they recovered as a result of the impermissible search must be suppressed.

According to the court’s written opinion, police responded to a call from the complaining witness that the defendant was threatening him. When police arrived, the defendant was in his parked car, which was out in front of the complaining witness’s home. The complaining witness told police that the defendant had threatened to kill him, and that he believed the threat was a real one because he’d seen the defendant with a gun on a previous occasion. The defendant admitted to the police that he told the complaining witness he would kill him if he came onto his property. The defendant also admitted to having a rifle back at home and being licensed to carry a firearm in Virginia, but not New York.

The officers searched the defendant, finding nothing. The officers then searched the defendant’s car and found a gun near the driver’s seat. The defendant argued that the weapon must be suppressed because the police lacked justification for the search of his truck. The trial court agreed, and the prosecution appealed.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun crime case discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress a firearm that was recovered near where he was arrested. The case allowed the court to discuss whether the police officers’ conduct in stopping the defendant was permissible under state and federal law. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officers attempted to stop the defendant without probable cause, and thus the defendant’s motion was properly granted.

According to the court’s opinion, police received a call reporting a gunshot at a specific intersection. After arriving, police found an unidentified witness about a block away, who reported that he heard the gunshot and had noticed two men walking near the area where the shot originated from. The witness described the men and what they were wearing, but did not indicate that either man had a gun – only that he had seen them at the intersection.

Police continued to the intersection and located the defendant and another man who matched the description given by the witness. Officers asked the defendant to stop. At this point, the defendant’s hands were in his pockets. The defendant turned and ran. The other officer apprehended the defendant a short time later, and recovered a gun nearby after hearing a metal object hit the ground immediately before arresting the defendant.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun case holding that police were not justified in searching the defendant’s backpack without a warrant. The case presents an informative and important discussion of the exigent-circumstances doctrine, which allows police to bypass the warrant requirement in certain limited situations.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers went to the defendant’s home based on a tip that a man was selling drugs out of the home. The tip also mentioned that the man selling drugs kept a gun in a distinctive backpack. Upon arriving at the scene, officers saw the defendant smoking a joint on the front porch. The defendant allegedly stood up, cursed, grabbed a distinctive looking backpack, and ran inside.

Officers followed the defendant into the home, and observed the defendant toss the backpack on the floor in the home. Police handcuffed the defendant on the second floor. After police secured the defendant, they opened the backpack. Inside the backpack was a gun and some marijuana. The defendant was charged with criminal possession of a weapon and possession of marijuana.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun case discussing the concept of forced abandonment. Generally, when a defendant discards an item – such as narcotics or a gun – they lose any ability to argue for the item’s suppression. However, when a defendant’s choice to discard an object is the product of forced abandonment, the object must be suppressed. Forced abandonment occurs when the defendant’s discarding of an item was “spontaneous and precipitated by the unlawful pursuit by the police.”

According to the court’s opinion, police received a report of gunshots near an apartment complex. The report indicated that the suspect was a black male in a group of about eight other men. As officers arrived, they saw two black men, one of whom was the defendant. The officers could not initially see anything in either man’s hand. When the men noticed the officers, the men turned around and ran.

The officers followed the men, giving a description over police radio. The officers lost sight of the men for a few moments, but then regained sight of the second male. As officers were arresting this man, one of the officers involved in the chase looked at a nearby apartment building and saw the defendant with a gun in his hand. The defendant threw the gun and ran. Police caught up to the defendant, arrested him, and charged him with possession of a firearm.