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Court Rules in Favor of Defendant in New York Gun Case Based on Illegal Police Stop

A state appellate court recently issued a decision in a New York gun case, involving a defendant’s appeal of a jury verdict, finding him guilty of criminal possession of a weapon. The defendant appealed the jury verdict arguing that the New York Supreme Court erred in refusing to suppress evidence of a gun that the police seized during the stop. The defendant argued that the court should have suppressed the evidence because the police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the car in which the defendant was a passenger.

According to testimony from the suppression hearing, an officer aiding another officer with a traffic stop heard several gunshots coming from north or northeast of the stop. The officer proceeded north, passing two intersections, but did not see any vehicles or pedestrians. When he passed through another intersection, he saw a vehicle with taillights moving slowly. The officer followed and stopped the car, stating that he was stopping the car to investigate whether anyone in the car committed a crime. The officer testified that there was less than a minute from when he heard the gunshot to when he saw the vehicle and less than two minutes from the gunshots to the stop.

Under the law, stops qualify as “seizures implicating the constitution” and require that the police officer has “reasonable suspicion” that the driver or any occupants in the vehicle committed a crime, are in the process of committing a crime, or about to commit a crime. Case law holds that vehicle stops are level three intrusions, which are forcible seizures. Level two intrusions are those that only require a “founded suspicion that criminal activity is afoot.” Courts must consider the “totality of the circumstances” to determine whether police conduct was illegal.

In this case, the government presented evidence that the officer stopped the vehicle less than two minutes after hearing the shots. Moreover, the officers indicated that they did not see any pedestrian or vehicle car beside the subject vehicle, and the vehicle was near the location of the shots. However, the police officers did not have a description of an involved vehicle or knowledge regarding whether a vehicle was even involved at all. Additionally, the police officer did not provide the court with any testimony regarding whether he witnessed any vehicle or pedestrian traffic before the shots. Instead, the defendant’s vehicle was just a vehicle in the general vicinity of where gunshots were heard.

The appeals court found that the officer correctly recognized that he had the common-law right to inquire because he believed criminal activity was afoot. However, they did not have the necessary reasonable suspicion to justify the seizure of the car. Therefore, the court reversed the judgment, suppressed the physical evidence, and ultimately dismissed the indictment.

Have You Been Arrested and Charged with a Crime in New York?

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges in New York, you should contact the attorneys at Tilem & Associates. Our law firm’s lawyers handle New York gun crimes, drug offenses, assaults, theft and robbery, and homicide charges. We have experience handling all stages of a New York criminal case. Our attorneys have an extensive understanding of New York’s discovery laws, and can help you fight your case. Many cases can be won using procedural tactics, including those based on speedy trials, suppressions, and discovery motions. Contact our office at 877-377-8666, to schedule a free consultation with a New York criminal defense attorney at our law firm.

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