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Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Recently, we conducted a suppression hearing in New York County (Manhattan) Criminal Court, in a DWI case where the Court suppressed evidence that was found pursuant to an inventory search.  Courts are increasingly scrutinizing inventory searches.  In July, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York forgery case discussing whether the police officers’ search of the defendant’s vehicle was legal. Ultimately, the court concluded that the search was not a valid inventory search, and reversed the defendant’s conviction.

Under New York criminal law, most searches must be supported by a warrant. However, there are exceptions to this general rule. One exception is the inventory search. An inventory search is when a police officer searches a person’s car after conducting a valid arrest. The justification for the inventory-search exception is that inventory searches serve three purposes:

  1. They protect the owner’s belongings;

On July 31, 2019, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York drug case discussing whether police officers can search a person’s car if they smell marijuana. Ultimately, the court concluded that the search was permissible because the smell of marijuana gives rise to probable cause to search the vehicle. With that said, as more states relax the laws prohibiting the possession of marijuana, courts across the country are rethinking this holding.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers stopped a vehicle in which the defendant was a passenger. Once the officers stopped the car, they claimed the smell of marijuana was “emanating from the vehicle” upon their approach. The police officers ordered the driver and two passengers, one of whom was the defendant, out of the vehicle. The officers searched the defendant, put him in handcuffs, and placed him in the back of their squad car. They then searched the car, finding a small amount of marijuana in the car’s ashtray as well as 16 packets of cocaine in the rear of the vehicle, near where the defendant was sitting.

The defendant, charged with possession of cocaine, filed a motion to suppress the cocaine. The defendant argued that the police officers lacked probable cause to search the vehicle. He also claimed that the cocaine should be suppressed because he was illegally handcuffed and placed in the back of the police car. The defendant did not contest the validity of the traffic stop; only the officer’s decision to search the vehicle.

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.

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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