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New York Court Condones Traffic Stop Conducted by Customs and Border Patrol Agent

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun case discussing the defendant’s motion to suppress a weapon that police officers found in his car. The case presents a unique issue in that a federal marine interdiction officer – not a police officer – conducted the traffic stop. Ultimately, the court held that the stop was valid.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a federal marine interdiction agent with the United States Customs and Border Protection was driving an unmarked car when he pulled onto the highway. As he did so, the agent noticed a pair of headlights approaching quickly in his rear-view mirror. As the lights got closer, the driver of that car slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting the agent’s vehicle. The agent noticed as the driver continued to drive erratically.

The agent called police on his personal cell phone to report the incident. At some point, the agent activated his blue-and-red emergency lights and stopped the car the defendant was driving. The agent waited with the defendant until the police arrived. Police searched the defendant’s car and found a gun.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the agent lacked authority to stop him, and that the stop could not be a valid citizen’s arrest, because the agent used his overhead lights to conduct the stop. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, finding that while the agent had the authority to stop the vehicle, he was not acting as a peace officer at the time of the stop. The court also held that the stop was not a valid citizen’s arrest because the agent used his emergency lights. The prosecution appealed to the state’s high court.

On appeal, the court reversed the lower court’s decision to grant the defendant’s motion. The court initially determined that the agent was not a “peace officer” as defined by state law. Thus, the officer’s actions “could not have improperly circumvented the jurisdictional limitations on the powers reserved for those members of law enforcement.”

The court noted that the propriety of the stop was not before the court because the defendant did not challenge these aspects of the stop. Thus, the court reversed the granting of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York Crime?

Police officers and other federal agents must follow state and federal constitutional principles when they stop someone for suspicion of committing a crime. However, officers routinely make errors in fact and judgment. In these cases, any evidence recovered as a result of the stop must be suppressed. If you have recently been arrested for a New York gun offense, or any other crime that was the result of a questionable traffic stop, contact the New York criminal defense lawyers at Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we have extensive experience handling all types of cases, including complex motions to suppress evidence. To learn more, and to schedule your free consultation today, call 877-377-8666.

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