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Articles Posted in Stop and Frisk

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Recently, in a New York gun possession case, a state appellate court issued a written opinion discussing whether the police officers’ approach of the defendant, as well as their subsequent investigation, was supported by reasonable suspicion and probable cause. Ultimately, the court determined that the officers’ initial approach was justified under the “common-law right to inquire,” and that the officers’ observations of the defendant as they approached gave rise to probable cause. Thus, the court affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

According to the court’s opinion, two police officers were on routine patrol. There had been numerous reports of shootings in the area. While on patrol, the officers received a tip that a black male with a bushy beard and dreadlocks had a gun and was inside a particular residence. The officers later observed the defendant, who matched the physical description given by the tipster, leaving the residence. As the officers approached the defendant, he placed his hand on his waist and fled. As the officers were chasing the defendant, they witnessed him discard a gun.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion to approach him. It was this illegal approach, the defendant argued, that led to him grabbing his waist and fleeing.

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Earlier this month, a New York appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York assault case involving a motion to suppress the weapon that the defendant allegedly used to assault the complaining witness. The case required the court to discuss a police officer’s legal authority to approach a citizen to investigate a potential crime. Ultimately, the court found that each of the officers’ actions were justified, and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were in the area of a recent shooting when they saw the defendant and another man “huddling” together. Evidently, there were no other people out on the street around the two men, and the defendant’s hand was in his pocket.

The police were operating without a description of the alleged shooter, and continued to the location of the shooting. After arriving, the officers turned around and began to approach the two men whom they had just passed. As the officers approached, they started walking away at a “high rate of speed.” While the defendant and his companion were walking away from the officers, the officers watched as the defendant discarded an object into an alleyway. The police officers detained the defendant without arresting him while one of the officers went to see what the defendant discarded. Once it was determined that the defendant had dropped a gun, the police arrested the defendant.

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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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Earlier this month, a state court issued a written opinion in a New York gun case discussing whether a police officer’s actions in approaching, questioning, and searching the defendant were justified under the circumstances. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer’s actions were unsupported by the requisite level of suspicion, and granted the defendant’s motion to suppress. In so doing, the court discussed the four types of police/citizen interactions.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was walking down the street at around 2 a.m. The police approached from behind in an unmarked car. The police were not responding to an emergency call and had not received any information that a crime had been committed. As police approached the defendant from behind, they noticed he had a bulge in his pocket. However, they could not see the shape of the bulge and did not know what it was.

Police pulled up next to the defendant, stating “police, can you stop for a second?” The defendant put his cell phone up to his ear and began to walk away at a hurried pace, although he was not running. At this point, a police officer exited the vehicle and approached the defendant, again telling the defendant to stop. As the officer got closer, he could see the defendant was holding a handgun in his right hand. The officer rushed the defendant, seized the gun, and the arrested the defendant.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York criminal law case discussing whether a police officer’s search of the defendant’s backpack was lawful. The Court examined whether the defendant abandoned property as a result of lawful or unlawful police conduct.  Ultimately, the court concluded that the police officer was justified in his actions leading up to the point where the defendant discarded the bag. Thus, the court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the gun.

The Facts of the Case

Police received an anonymous radio call that there was a man with a handgun riding the B9 bus towards Canarsie. Police waited at a bus stop, and when the defendant exited the bus, a police officer approached the defendant and asked him if he would mind talking to the officer for a moment.

At this point, the police officer claimed that the defendant became nervous and put his right hand into his pocket. When the police officer asked the defendant to remove his hand, the defendant refused. The police officer then drew his weapon and forcibly tried to remove the defendant’s hand from his pocket. The defendant fled and the police officer pursued him. Shortly thereafter, the defendant discarded the bag, the police officer searched the bag, and the police officer recovered the firearm.

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Over the last few years, there has been a backlash against the New York stop-and-frisk program, based on the fact that racial minorities were being stopped in far greater numbers than non-minority populations. And while by most accounts, the total number of people stopped and frisked has decreased, the basic principle that allows a police officer to stop and frisk a citizen still remains intact and these principles are important for experienced criminal defense attorneys who handle both gun crimes and drug crimes to be familiar with.

Under New York criminal law, there are four types of interactions with police. First, police may briefly stop someone to request information if they have any “objective and credible” reason. This does not necessarily have to be related to criminal activity. Second, if police believe that someone has, or is about to, commit a crime, they can briefly stop that person. Third, if police believe that the person poses a danger, they can search that person. Finally, if police have probable cause to believe that person committed a crime, they can arrest them.

In the moment, police have a difficult time neatly fitting each situation they confront into one of these four categories. As a result, police generally err on the side of restricting a person’s rights and will frequently exercise more force than is necessary. When this is the case, any evidence seized as a result of an officer’s violation of a person’s rights may be suppressed by the court.

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