Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion reversing a lower court’s decision which denied a defendant’s motion to suppress the drugs that were recovered in a New York drug case. The case involved a traffic stop conducted by police officers who were investigating information that a vehicle would be transporting a large quantity of narcotics. Ultimately, the court concluded that the search of the defendant’s vehicle was unconstitutional based on the information the officers had at the time of the stop.
The Facts of the Case
Police officers intercepted communication indicating that a Ford Explorer would be transporting a large amount of drugs through a particular part of the state on a given night. That night, certain New York State Troopers were told to wait on the highway and stop the Ford Explorer as it passed.
Officers waited for six hours for the Ford Explorer. When they saw it approaching, they stopped the vehicle, arrested the defendant and her codefendant, and searched the car. Officers found a large amount of drugs. No law enforcement ever obtained or sought a warrant for the defendant’s arrest or the search of their vehicle.
The defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress, arguing that the trooper’s actions did not fit within an exception to the warrant requirement contained in the state and federal constitutions. The prosecution responded by citing a number of “inconsistent factual theories,” claiming the troopers’ conduct fit within one of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. The trial court agreed with the prosecution, denying the motion. The defendant was convicted and then appealed her case.
On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s denial of the defendant’s motion. The appellate court explained that it is a “fundamental precept that warrantless searches and seizures are per se unreasonable unless they fall within one of the acknowledged exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement.”
The court then went over each of the prosecution’s proffered theories as to why the troopers were justified in stopping and searching the car without a warrant. For example, the prosecution claimed that under the “fellow officer” rule, a law enforcement officer is justified in relying on information provided by other law enforcement officers. However, the prosecution only called the two arresting officers and not those with actual knowledge of the information relied upon for the stop. Thus, the court explained that the prosecution failed to present the necessary evidence to justify the stop under the fellow-officer rule.
This case is a good reminder that the burden to prove the legality of a traffic stop rests with the prosecution. Unless the government can justify that a stop was legal, all evidence recovered must be suppressed.
Have You Been Arrested for a New York Drug Crime?
If you face drug charges in New York, the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates can help. We have extensive experience defending the rights of individuals charged with all types of serious criminal offenses. We can aggressively cross-examine law enforcement officers and other adverse witnesses to expose their mistakes, untruths, and inconsistencies. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with a New York criminal defense attorney today, call 877-377-8666 today.