Court Discusses the Standard for Approaching a Person in a Parked Car in Recent New York DUI Case

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York Drinking and Driving case discussing the standard courts use to determine whether a police officer’s actions were justified in stopping a parked car. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer’s stop of the defendant was valid, affirming the defendant’s convictions.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer was on routine patrol around 1:45 in the morning when he saw a vehicle parked in a gas station parking lot. The officer thought it was odd, considering the gas station was closed and pulled up to investigate.

As the officer passed the vehicle, he saw the defendant slumped over the steering wheel. The officer exited his car to “make sure the driver was alright.” Initially, the officer banged on the window, but the defendant remained still. The officer then opened the unlocked car door and shook the defendant until he came to. At this point, the officer could smell alcohol on the defendant’s breath, leading to the defendant’s arrest.

The Defendant’s Motion to Suppress

The defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress, arguing that the police officer lacked justification to open his car door. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed after entering a conditional guilty plea.

On appeal, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction. The court explained that the law imposes a different standard for stopping a moving car and approaching “an occupied, stationary vehicle to request information.” While officers need either probable cause or reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to stop a moving vehicle, the court explained that they only need ”’an objective, credible reason” to approach a stopped car.

Here, the court held that the officer did not conduct a traffic stop, but instead merely approached the defendant’s vehicle for information. The court explained that, once the officer knocked on the window and the defendant did not wake up, it was reasonable for the officer to open the car door. In doing so, the court determined that the officer was not acting in a law enforcement capacity, but was checking on the welfare of the defendant. Because the court determined that the officer’s actions were not part of a criminal investigation, it held that they did not need to be supported by any suspicion of wrongdoing.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York Drunk Driving Crime?

If you were recently arrested and charged with a New York DUI offense after an officer stopped your car—regardless of whether you were parked or moving—contact the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates. Our DUI defense lawyers are knowledgeable in the state and federal search and seizure law and can help you determine if the evidence the government intends to use against you was obtained in violation of your rights. If so, it cannot be introduced and the prosecution may no longer have a case. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, give Tilem & Associates a call today at 877-377-8666.

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