A state appellate court recently issued a decision in a New York gun case, involving a defendant’s appeal of a jury verdict, finding him guilty of criminal possession of a weapon. The defendant appealed the jury verdict arguing that the New York Supreme Court erred in refusing to suppress evidence of a gun that the police seized during the stop. The defendant argued that the court should have suppressed the evidence because the police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the car in which the defendant was a passenger.
According to testimony from the suppression hearing, an officer aiding another officer with a traffic stop heard several gunshots coming from north or northeast of the stop. The officer proceeded north, passing two intersections, but did not see any vehicles or pedestrians. When he passed through another intersection, he saw a vehicle with taillights moving slowly. The officer followed and stopped the car, stating that he was stopping the car to investigate whether anyone in the car committed a crime. The officer testified that there was less than a minute from when he heard the gunshot to when he saw the vehicle and less than two minutes from the gunshots to the stop.
Under the law, stops qualify as “seizures implicating the constitution” and require that the police officer has “reasonable suspicion” that the driver or any occupants in the vehicle committed a crime, are in the process of committing a crime, or about to commit a crime. Case law holds that vehicle stops are level three intrusions, which are forcible seizures. Level two intrusions are those that only require a “founded suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.” Courts must consider the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether police conduct was illegal.