Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun case discussing the concept of forced abandonment. Generally, when a defendant discards an item – such as narcotics or a gun – they lose any ability to argue for the item’s suppression. However, when a defendant’s choice to discard an object is the product of forced abandonment, the object must be suppressed. Forced abandonment occurs when the defendant’s discarding of an item was “spontaneous and precipitated by the unlawful pursuit by the police.”
According to the court’s opinion, police received a report of gunshots near an apartment complex. The report indicated that the suspect was a black male in a group of about eight other men. As officers arrived, they saw two black men, one of whom was the defendant. The officers could not initially see anything in either man’s hand. When the men noticed the officers, the men turned around and ran.
The officers followed the men, giving a description over police radio. The officers lost sight of the men for a few moments, but then regained sight of the second male. As officers were arresting this man, one of the officers involved in the chase looked at a nearby apartment building and saw the defendant with a gun in his hand. The defendant threw the gun and ran. Police caught up to the defendant, arrested him, and charged him with possession of a firearm.
The defendant argued that the court must suppress the gun as its recovery was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Specifically, the defendant argued that police initially had no reason to chase him and, at the point the officers engaged in a foot pursuit, the defendant was seized. The defendant’s position was that because police seized him without a constitutional basis, anything recovered as a result of that seizure must be suppressed.
The prosecution acknowledged that the initial seizure of the defendant was unlawful. However, it argued that the gun should not be suppressed because the defendant’s decision to discard the weapon was “not provoked by the unlawful pursuit and was thus attenuated from it.” Essentially, the prosecution argued that this case presented two distinct events; the initial seizure which was impermissible, and then the subsequent interaction in which the gun was recovered, which was justified.
The court rejected the prosecution’s argument, finding that the defendant’s act was “spontaneous and precipitated by the unlawful pursuit by the police.” The court noted that only a minute elapsed from the first time the police saw the defendant and the moment he discarded the gun. The court also explained that police were engaged in active pursuit of the defendant during that time, which precluded the prosecution’s position of two separate interactions.
Have You Been Arrested on a New York Gun Case?
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