In a recent New York case involving the illegal possession of a firearm, the court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress physical evidence. In the appeal, the defendant argued that the initial police pursuit of the defendant that led to the recovery of the evidence in question was not legal, therefore barring the use of the gun at trial. The appeals court denied his motion, finding first that the police pursuit was lawful, and as a result, the motion to suppress was denied.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the police officer was engaged in his normal duties when he was patrolling near the Woodside Houses, a New York City Housing Authority complex, in Woodside, Queens. The officer then observed a group of three or four individuals gathered together on a bench and recognized one of them, the defendant, as the subject of two bench warrants that he had received and reviewed prior to March 16. Both bench warrants were in connection with two pending criminal proceedings. Each contained a photograph of the defendant and identifying physical characteristics, including height, weight, age, and race. As the officer and the defendant made eye contact, the defendant began running towards a nearby building.
The officer then observed the defendant make a motion towards the elevator before disappearing into the stairwell. Despite sweeping the building, the police officers were unable to locate the defendant. The officers then referred to video surveillance footage of the building and discovered that the defendant had disposed of a handgun in the elevator before running into the stairwell. An inspection of the elevator revealed a handgun in the shaft. Several days later, the defendant turned himself in.
The defendant argued primarily that the original police pursuit was not legal and as a result, the evidence recovered could be suppressed. When the defense files a motion to suppress, the burden initially rests with the prosecution to show that the police conduct is legal. However, once that is proven through “credible evidence” the defendant then bears the ultimate burden of establishing that the arrest was not based on probable cause or that the police conduct was otherwise illegal. In this case, as the action in question is the pursuit of the defendant, and not an arrest, the bar for the legality of the officer’s actions only require that they acted based on “reasonable suspicion that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed.” In this instance, the outstanding warrants for the defendant satisfy that requirement and render the pursuit lawful.
Additionally, regarding the suppression of the evidence, a defendant seeking the suppression of physical evidence “must establish standing by demonstrating a legitimate expectation of privacy in the place or item searched.” Here, the defendant voluntarily abandoned the gun, and further, the Court finds that the defendant did not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the building elevator or the elevator shaft since the elevator was a public area and readily accessible to anyone in the building. Accordingly, the defendant’s motion to suppress physical evidence was denied by the appeals court.
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