Articles Posted in TRAFFIC

We have discussed in past blogs how New York’s speedy trial statute can be effectively used in many criminal cases.  In a recent case coming out of a New York court, the defendant appealed convictions for three misdemeanor counts and three traffic infractions that had arisen in 2014. On appeal, the defendant argued that an amendment to New York’s speedy trial statute should apply retroactively; thus, he was entitled to a dismissal. The court of appeals considered the defendant’s argument but ultimately disagreed, explaining that the statute in question did not apply to the offense for which the defendant was seeking relief.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, approximately eight years ago, the defendant was criminally charged based on traffic violations. 17 months after being charged, the defendant moved to dismiss the charges based on a New York statute that guarantees defendants the right to a speedy trial. The statute includes provisions stating that if a defendant is subject to unreasonable delay because the prosecution is not ready for trial, that defendant can use this statute to argue for a dismissal. At the time of his motion to dismiss, however, the statute did not apply to defendants charged with traffic infractions. Thus, the defendant’s argument was unsuccessful.

In 2019, however, the legislature changed the language of the New York statute, explicitly including defendants charged with traffic infractions as individuals eligible for dismissal because of unreasonable prosecutorial delay. Upon hearing this news, the defendant again brought up this argument, stating that now he was in the class of people that could benefit from the statute. The court of appeals was thus faced with the decision of whether or not the defendant’s case could indeed be dismissed because of the statute.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York Leaving the Scene of an Accident case which required the court to analyze whether a defendant’s statements that were elicited before he was given his Miranda warnings were admissible at trial. Ultimately, the court held that, because the defendant was not in custody when he made the statements, the detective interviewing him did not need to Mirandize the defendant. Thus, the statements were admissible and the defendant’s conviction was affirmed.

The Facts of the Case

According to the facts contained in the appellate opinion, a pedestrian was struck by a pickup truck in East Islip. Throughout the course of the investigation, the detective got a lead that the defendant had a pickup truck that matched the description of the one that hit the pedestrian.

The detective went to the defendant’s home. When the detective arrived, he told the defendant why he was there, and the defendant voluntarily answered a few preliminary questions. The defendant also agreed to let the detective check out his vehicle.

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A bill which would end the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and driver  responsibility assessments has past both the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate and is currently awaiting the signature of Governor Cuomo. The new law, if signed could impact millions of New Yorker’s who are currently suspended for unpaid fines and fees such as Driver Responsibility Assessments.  In the 26 months from January 2016 until April 2018 New York issued nearly 1.7 million suspensions for traffic debt.  The suspensions create a cycle that is hard to get out of since, often, those with suspended licenses, cannot work to pay the debts.

Driving with a suspended license that is suspended based upon unpaid fines or driver responsibility assessments can constitute anywhere from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on a number of factors and can have serious consequences including mandatory probation and/or jail.

Similar laws that prohibit suspensions based upon traffic debt have already been passed in at least 9 states including large states such as Texas and California as part of a national trend to stop punishing poverty by eliminating cash bail and terminating suspensions based upon unpaid debts.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun case, reversing a lower court that found the defendant’s motion to suppress lacked merit. In holding that the defendant’s motion should have been granted, the appellate court explained that the defendant’s conduct failed to provide the officer with probable cause to search the vehicle without a warrant.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer saw the defendant make a left turn without using a signal. As the officer initiated the traffic stop, the defendant pulled into a driveway. The defendant initially got out of the vehicle, but the officer told him to get back inside. The defendant was unable to open the window, explaining to the officer that it was broken. Eventually, the defendant moved to the passenger side, opened the door, and fled.

Once the officer caught the defendant, the defendant explained he ran because he had a warrant for his arrest. The officer went back to the defendant’s car, noticing the smell of marijuana. The officer looked through the car, finding small baggies and a substance that he believed was crack cocaine. The officer then obtained a warrant to fully search the car. Upon searching the vehicle, the officer found a semi-automatic handgun.

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Earlier this month, the United States Supreme court issued a written opinion in a criminal law case discussing an issue that will become very important in many New York drug possession and firearms cases. The case involved the question as to whether a police officer can reasonably assume that the person who is operating a vehicle is the registered owner of that vehicle. While this inquiry may seem like an unimportant one, in reality, it will have a major impact on motion practice and suppression hearings across the country.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a sheriff deputy ran the license plate on the back of a pick-up truck to find that the registered owner had a revoked license. The deputy pulled the vehicle over, assuming that the registered owner was driving the vehicle. When the deputy discovered that the defendant was indeed the one driving, he cited the defendant.

The defendant filed a motion requesting to suppress all the evidence gathered from the stop, arguing that the deputy lacked reasonable suspicion when he decided to pull the defendant over. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, but the appellate court reversed. On appeal to the state’s high court, the case was again reversed, this time in favor of the defendant. That court held that the deputy was acting on a “hunch” when he assumed that the registered owner of the car was the one who was driving it. The prosecution appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

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Police officers must have a justifiable reason when they decide to pull over a motorist and initiate a traffic stop. Typically, an officer must have either probable cause or a reasonable suspicion, depending on the surrounding circumstances. When the police pull over a driver without a sufficient reason, anything that an officer finds in a subsequent search of the vehicle is subject to a motion to suppress by a New York criminal lawyer.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that touches on this very issue and can have a dramatic effect on the enforcement of Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in New York.  Specifically, the question that the Court must answer in its upcoming opinion is whether it is reasonable for an officer to suspect that the registered owner of a vehicle is the one driving the vehicle, absent any information to the contrary.  This is critical, when a plate reader mounted on a police car shows that the registered owner of the car has a license that has been suspended or revoked.

The case arose when police officers ran the plates on the defendant’s vehicle. Upon doing so, the officers determined that the registered owner of the vehicle had a suspended license. Assuming that the person driving the car was the vehicle’s registered owner, the police officers pulled over the defendant. The officers confirmed that the defendant was also the registered owner of the vehicle, and they issued him a ticket.

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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In the past, we have written several blogs about the importance of suppression in criminal cases in general and specifically with DWI cases.  Recently, a court granted a defendant’s motion to suppress in a New York DUI case that was initiated by police officers pulling the defendant over for having tinted windows. The court granted the motion based on a total lack of testimony regarding the officers’ observations of the degree of tint on the defendant’s windows. The court noted that excessive tint is a valid basis for a New York traffic stop. However, here the prosecution failed to elicit evidence that the tint on the defendant’s windows was greater than that which was legally permissible.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was pulled over by an off-duty police officer based on the vehicle’s tinted windows. The off-duty officer testified that he instructed the defendant to pull over and, through his open window, could smell the odor of alcohol and could see that the defendant’s eyes were watery and bloodshot. The officer also testified that he based these conclusions on his twelve years as a New York City police officer. The officer explained that the only reason he pulled the defendant over was that he noticed “tinted windows.”

The off-duty officer called in back-up, who arrived a short time later. The back-up officer was less experienced than the off-duty officer, but testified to having made between 12-15 DUI arrests in his 15 months as a New York City police officer. The officer also noted that the defendant smelled of alcohol.

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Refusing to take a chemical test in New York can come with very serious consequences.  For example, a motorist who refuses a properly requested breath test can have his or her license revoked for a minimum period of one year even if they beat the DWI case.  If a person has prior alcohol related incidents, the period of revocation can be much longer, even life.  Fortunately, before revoking a license because of an alleged refusal, the motorist is entitled to some level of due process.  In New York this requires that the Department of Motor Vehicles hold a hearing to determine whether the motorists’ license will be revoked.  In New York the criminal case, the DWI, and the refusal follow two different tracks.  The DWI is handled in Court while the refusal goes to a hearing before an administrative law judge that works for DMV.  In addition, the burden of proof is lower in refusal hearings.

Last week, Tilem & Associates Partner Peter Tilem conducted  a “refusal hearing” in the New York and beat the refusal. That means that the police did not sustain their burden of proving the elements necessary to revoke the license and the matter was dismissed by the DMV administrative law judge. This particular motorist was charged with both DWI and had the refusal.  He had two prior convictions for Driving While Ability Impaired by Alcohol (DWAI) and either a conviction in the DWI case (including a conviction for a reduced DWAI) or a finding that he refused could have resulted in a lifetime revocation of his New York driving privileges. Thankfully, after an almost one hour cross-examination of the police officer the DMV judge dismissed the refusal.

At a New York DWI Refusal hearing the police must establish 4 separate elements in order to win the refusal hearing.

In a recent New York court opinion, the court analyzed whether a police officer can enter a license plate into a government database to check for any suspensions, outstanding violations, and the registration of the vehicle without first developing any suspicion that the vehicle was engaged in criminal activity. More specifically, the court ruled that this review of the license plate information does not constitute a search.  Given the fact that many modern police cars are equipped with license plate readers and fixed license plate readers are becoming more commonplace, the issue is of paramount importance.

The facts of the case that gave rise to this opinion are as follows. In 2014, a police officer saw a vehicle drive past him. The vehicle was operated by the defendant. During the eventual trial on the matter, the officer stated that he did not see the vehicle engaging in any traffic violations or otherwise erratic behaviors. The police officer entered the vehicle’s license plate into his computer system, which was linked to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The analysis indicated that the registration for the vehicle was suspended due to outstanding parking tickets. The officer then initiated a stop of the vehicle. During that stop, the officer conducted a database search of the defendant’s driver’s license and discovered that his license was also suspended. Ultimately, the officer initiated an arrest of the defendant for driving while intoxicated as well as for operating a vehicle with a suspended license and registration.

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