Court Discusses Constructive Possession and the “Automobile Presumption” in Recent New York Gun Possession Case

Recently, a New York state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case discussing the concept of constructive possession as well as the state’s “automobile presumption.” Ultimately, the court concluded that the jury’s verdict finding that the defendant possessed the gun was supported by the evidence and that the lower court’s instruction to the jury was appropriate under the circumstances.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, during routine patrol police officers observed a van with a missing tail light and initiated a traffic stop. The van did not stop, and sped away. Police officers followed the van and watched as a black object was thrown out of the rear passenger door. The officers continued to follow the van until it stopped, at which point an unidentified man ran from the van. The defendant exited the van and was arrested by police. Police later went back to obtain the object that was discarded from the van, and discovered that it was a shotgun. A shotgun shell was found during a search of the vehicle.

The case proceeded to trial, and at the conclusion of the evidence the court instructed the jury on the automobile presumption, which states that the presence of a gun inside a vehicle is presumed to belong to each person inside the vehicle unless the vehicle was stolen or the weapon was found on one of the occupants. The automobile presumption is an application of a legal theory called “constructive possession” which allows a jury to infer a defendant possessed an object based on the surrounding facts.

The defendant was found guilty and appealed the judge’s decision to instruct the jury on the automobile presumption. The defendant argued that, because the evidence indicated that the gun belonged to the unidentified man who fled the van, the instruction was not appropriate.

On appeal, the court upheld the defendant’s conviction, approving the use of the automobile presumption in this case. The court noted that there was no evidence suggesting who initially brought the gun into the car. The court explained that, at best, the evidence showed that “someone other than the defendant handled the shotgun and disposed of it while defendant was driving the van.” The court determined that this did not constitute “clearcut” evidence that the gun was solely in the possession of the unidentified person. Thus, the trial court was proper to instruct the jury on the automobile presumption.

Have You Been Arrested on a New York Gun Case?

If you have recently been arrested after being found in possession of a gun, you should contact the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at the law firm of Tilem & Associates. Depending on the circumstances of an arrest, there may be several defenses to possessory offenses including a motion to suppress based on improper police conduct. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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