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.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the officers had no reasonable suspicion to approach him or probable cause to stop him and that any seized as a result of this violation should be suppressed.
The Court’s Analysis
The court rejected the defendant’s argument and affirmed the lower court’s denial of his motion. The court explained that the officers’ conduct was within the bounds of a constitutional investigation.
The court engaged in a step-by-step analysis of the officers’ conduct. To begin, the court explained that the police officers were justified in approaching the defendant and his companion to inquire about the recent shooting, even if there was no indication either of the men was involved. Once the officers approached and the two men started walking away at a high rate of speed, this escalated to a reasonable suspicion that the men were involved in criminal activity. Then, the officers had probable cause to stop the two men once they saw the defendant discard an item into the alley. Finally, probable caused existed to arrest the defendant once the object was discovered to be a gun.
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