How Reasonable Must “Reasonable Suspicion” Be For a New York Police Officer to Stop and Search Someone?

A police officer cannot stop a pedestrian or motorist for just any reason. New York criminal law requires that an officer possesses reasonable suspicion before initiating a pedestrian stop or motor-vehicle stop. Specifically, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that “a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed.” An officer’s reasonable suspicion cannot rest on a “hunch,” and must be supported by articulable facts.

In a recent New York gun crime case, a state appellate court issued an opinion discussing the concept of reasonable suspicion and whether the officer that arrested the defendant for a gun while on a public bus possessed such suspicion when he asked the defendant if he had a gun. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer did possess a reasonable suspicion and affirmed the denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Facts

According to the court’s opinion, police officers responded to a call for a shooting. Upon arrival, police located a gun-shot victim, who described the alleged shooter as a male wearing all black clothing, including a black hoodie. The victim also told the officers that the alleged shooter got on a bus at a nearby stop.

Evidently, officers went to the bus stop and determined that the stop serviced the Q4 bus line. About 15 minutes after the officers had spoken to the victim, they located a Q4 bus about 1.5 miles away from where the shooting occurred. The officers boarded the bus and observed the defendant sitting in the rear of the bus, wearing black pants and a black hoodie. Officers approached the defendant and asked if he was armed. The defendant nodded down toward his waistband, at which point the officers recovered a gun and arrested the defendant.

The defendant moved to suppress the gun, arguing that the police officers did not have reasonable suspicion to believe that he had committed a crime. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion and the defendant appealed.

The Court’s Analysis

The court rejected the defendant’s argument and affirmed the denial of his motion. The court explained under the “totality of the circumstances” the officers possessed reasonable suspicion. The court explained that, in general, police will have reasonable suspicion to stop someone if they match the description of someone who committed a crime and are close to the scene of the crime, both “temporally and geographically.”

Here, the court initially noted that the defendant’s clothing matched the description of the alleged shooter. Additionally, the defendant was located on the bus which the shooting victim saw the suspected shooter board. Thus, under a totality-of-the-circumstances analysis, the court concluded that the officers possessed reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant.

Have You Been Unlawfully Arrested?

If you have recently been subject to what you believe to have been an unlawful arrest, and are now charged with a criminal offense as a result, contact the New York criminal defense lawyers at the law firm of Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we represent individuals charged with all types of New York crimes, including gun crimes. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges that have been brought against you, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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