New York Court Denies Defendant’s Appeal in Gun Case, Despite Defendant’s Argument Regarding Plain View Doctrine

In a recent case involving a New York gun crime, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his conviction of attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. In the appeal, the defendant argued that the officer who found the weapon in question had no right to search his private vehicle, and the trial court should have suppressed the incriminating evidence. Disagreeing with the defendant and discussing the plain view doctrine, the court denied the appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, a police officer was patrolling one evening when he came across a parked car on the highway. The officer immediately saw an open bottle of tequila in the car and smelled alcohol coming from the general vicinity of the car. Because New York law prohibits possession of open containers on public highways, the officer opened the car to investigate the situation.  The Court decided that the officer had the legal right to do this since it is illegal to have an open container of alcohol in the car.

Not only did the officer confirm what he suspected – that the bottle indeed was full of tequila – but he also found an open backpack in the car on the passenger’s side floorboard. Inside the backpack the police officer found a pistol magazine. The officer arrested and charged the defendant with attempted criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree.

The Decision

The defendant’s main argument on appeal was that the physical evidence should have been suppressed before he was found guilty of the conviction. According to the defendant, the officer did not have a legitimate reason to invade the defendant’s privacy by opening his car door and searching the inside of the vehicle. The police officer did not have a warrant, and the defendant had not given the officer permission to search the vehicle. Because of this intrusion on the defendant’s privacy, the evidence should not have been allowed into the trial court’s initial consideration as to whether or not the defendant was guilty.

The court used something called the plain view doctrine to conclude that the defendant’s argument would ultimately be unsuccessful. Under the plain view doctrine, if an officer can lawfully see an object that raises his or her suspicion, that officer is allowed to seize the object without first obtaining a warrant. The Court noted that there are three elements to the plain view doctrine.  First, the officer must be standing in a legal place to see the object.  Second, the officer must be able to access the object lawfully.  Lastly, the incriminating character of the item must be readily apparent.   In this situation, the officer saw the tequila bottle inside the car. He also smelled alcohol as he approached the car, giving him ample reason to believe that it was worthwhile for him to investigate further.

The officer was legally able to enter the car because of this plain view doctrine and because of the alcohol he saw. Thus, the court denied the defendant’s appeal and affirmed the original conviction.

Have You Been Charged with Gun Possession in New York?

If you are facing criminal charges for gun possession in  New York, call our office at Tilem & Associates. Our team of knowledgeable, aggressive, and caring litigation lawyers has been proudly representing the rights of individuals for over 25 years, and we are eager to bring our expertise to your case. For a free and confidential consultation, call us at 914-415-6688.

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