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Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

In many cases, such as gun cases or drug cases, law enforcement agencies rely on the public to report criminal or suspicious activity to the police or emergency phone line. Tips received by police from the public can help an officer form reasonable suspicion that someone has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. With reasonable suspicion, police officers may be able to stop, detain, question, and search a suspect without a warrant. Because of this, tips from the public are often used by police officers to justify warrantless searches.

Although a phone-in tip can help an officer have a valid reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, the existence of a tip, particularly an anonymous tip,  is not in itself sufficient to justify performing a search without a warrant. The New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court,  recently reversed a trial court ruling that permitted an officer to search a car without a warrant based on a phoned-in tip.

The defendant from the recently decided appeal was riding in a friend’s vehicle when they were stopped by police. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the arresting officer had received a radio call from dispatch that someone in a vehicle matching the description of the van the suspect was riding was reported to be visibly brandishing a firearm. Based on the tip and the vehicle description, the police stopped the vehicle and performed a search for weapons, without consent or a warrant. After a firearm was found in the defendant’s possession, he was arrested and charged with a gun offense.

In a recent opinion from a New York court involving a leaving the scene of an accident, the defendant’s motion to suppress was denied. The defendant was convicted of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the first degree and filed a motion to suppress several statements he made to a sergeant who came to question him after the incident. The appellate court denied the motion because it found the defendant’s freedom was not significantly restricted when he made statements to the sergeant.

The Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the driver of a van struck another vehicle then drove away from the scene. Because the van’s license plate fell off while the van was driving away, the county sheriff’s office was able to identify the van’s registered owner. When a sergeant from the sheriff’s office went to question the van’s owner at his farm. The owner made statements that ended up being used against him in court.

After a jury found the defendant guilty of unlicensed operation of the motor vehicle, the defendant appealed, insisting that his statements to the sergeant should have been suppressed. On appeal, the defendant argued that he was both “in custody” and actively “interrogated” by the sergeant, meaning his freedom was significantly restricted while he was being questioned.

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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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