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Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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In either a New York drug-possession case or a New York Gun Possession case seeking suppression of the contraband can often be a defendant’s best defense.  Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in which the court reversed the defendant’s drug conviction, finding that the police did not have probable cause to arrest him. The case illustrates how police officers attempt to justify stopping a person based on nothing more than their subjective belief that the person is engaged in suspicious activity.

According to the court’s opinion, two police officers were on a routine patrol when they saw the defendant running on the sidewalk. The defendant then suddenly ran across the street, requiring several cars to slow down. The police officers decided to stop the defendant and issue a summons for disorderly conduct. As the police were approaching the defendant, they noticed he was clutching something in his pocket. Believing that the defendant had a weapon, the officers drew their weapons and ordered the defendant to place his hands in the air. The defendant complied and was frisked. The police found a knife and five small packets of cocaine.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the drugs that were recovered as a result of the search, arguing that the police officers had no reason to stop him and issue a summons for disorderly conduct.

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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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Prosecutors and Police officers routinely use confidential informants to gather information and perform controlled buys in narcotics cases, firearms cases or cases involving other contraband. Often, police will use what a confidential informant tells them to establish probable cause when they seek to obtain a  search warrant. Thus, confidential informants can play a significant role in many New York drug cases.

However, police and prosecutors generally refuse to a provide the defense with the identity of the confidential informant because once an informant’s identification is known, they can no longer be used by police and may face retaliation. At the same time, if a defendant cannot question police about the existence of the informant, there is the concern that the informant may not exist and that police fabricated the informant to get around the warrant requirement.

To alleviate these concerns, courts require that the prosecution present the confidential informant in an ex parte hearing (outside the presence of the defendant). Recently, a New York appellate court issued an opinion in a case discussing the proper procedure a court should follow when presented with a case in which the prosecution is relying on a confidential informant’s testimony to develop probable cause.

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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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When someone is arrested and charged with a serious New York crime, they are often subjected to pretrial incarceration. This may be because they are unable to afford bail on their new case, the Court held them without bail, or because they were on probation or parole at the time they were arrested for the new allegations. In any event, after being arrested and subsequently incarcerated, it is common for defendants to make several phone calls to friends, loved ones, and employers. These phone calls are recorded, and anyone charged with a New York crime should not discuss their case over the phone with anyone except their attorney.  These recorded phone calls have been increasingly used by prosecutors in New York as evidence in the criminal case.

A recent case issued by a New York appellate court held that a correctional facility does not violate a defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights when it discloses the contents of an inmate’s phone conversations to the prosecution.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was facing charges of burglary and robbery, and was held at Rikers Island for eight months until his family was able to post bail. During his pretrial incarceration, the defendant made approximately 1,100 phone calls. At trial, the prosecution attempted to admit excerpts from four of those calls, containing incriminating statements. The defendant filed a motion to preclude the conversations from being admitted into evidence, arguing that their admission would violate his Fourth Amendment rights.

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As a general rule, police officers cannot enter a home without  a warrant. While exceptions do exist, they are somewhat rare and are better left for another blog post. Once a police officer obtains a search or arrest warrant, the officer must comply with all procedural guidelines governing the execution of warrants. If officers disobey these guidelines, any evidence seized as a result of the search or arrest may be deemed inadmissible by the court.  In addition, a defendant can challenge the issuance of the search warrant in certain circumstances.

One issue that frequently comes up is when police officers can forcefully enter a home to execute a search or arrest warrant. Generally speaking, if a valid warrant is issued, officers may approach the house named in the warrant and enter that home. However, under New York law, a police officer must first knock, announce their presence as police, and give the occupant an opportunity to answer before entering forcefully. This is known as the “knock and announce rule.”

New York Laws sections 690.50 (search warrants) and 120.80 (arrest warrants) provide for the specific procedures that must be followed when executing a warrant. Both statutes require an officer serving a warrant knock and announce their presence, and both statutes also contain exceptions when an officer is permitted to forcefully enter a home without first complying with the knock-and-announce rule.

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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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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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Recently, a New York court issued a written opinion in a New York DWI case granting the defendant’s motion to suppress the results of the field sobriety tests administered by the arresting officer. The court also granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the results of the chemical testing that was performed on the defendant’s breath.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was pulled over by a police officer after the officer believed he had witnessed a traffic violation. Evidently, the officer was about 300 feet behind the defendant’s vehicle with another car between them when the officer saw the defendant’s car swerve within its lane. The officer testified that the swerving lasted for a few seconds. At one point, the defendant’s car briefly crossed the fog line and then returned to its lane.

The officer explained that after he pulled the defendant’s vehicle over, he noticed that the defendant smelled of alcohol. A field sobriety test was administered, and the defendant was arrested and taken to the station for a breath-alcohol test. The defendant was later charged with two counts of DUI and filed a motion to suppress the field sobriety and chemical test results.

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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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