Recently, a New York court denied a defendant’s motion to suppress incriminating evidence in a drug case. The defendant was originally charged with criminal possession of marijuana: the main evidence used against him in court was marijuana that an officer found after conducting an external canine search of his vehicle. The defendant appealed, arguing that the officer had invaded his sense of privacy and did not have reason to conduct this kind of search of his car. The court rejected the defendant’s arguments, ultimately affirming his conviction of criminal drug possession.
The Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, a police officer saw the defendant greet another person on the sidewalk outside a convenience store and suspected the two people were conducting a drug deal. Suspicious, the officer followed the defendant as he drove away, knowing already that the corner where he saw the people was in an area where drug sales frequently occurred. The officer noticed that one of the defendant’s two rear license plate lamps was out, so he pulled the defendant over for a traffic stop. After speaking with the officer, the defendant consented to a search of the backseat of his vehicle.
Instead of conducting the search as planned, the officer walked his canine around the exterior of the vehicle. Within seconds, the canine started barking at the trunk of the car. The officer opened the trunk and found marijuana. The defendant was later charged with one count of criminal possession of marijuana in the second degree.
The Court’s Decision
The defendant appealed, arguing that the officer did not have a legitimate reason to search the trunk of his car. He argued that as the driver, he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his trunk, and that the officer did not have a legitimate reason to conduct an exterior canine search of the vehicle. Because the officer invaded the defendant’s sense of privacy, the marijuana should not have been used as incriminating evidence in court.
The court disagreed. It was reasonable, the court said, for the officer to be suspicious of criminal activity in this situation. The officer had witnessed an interaction that he decided was suspicious, and he had already known the defendant had been previously involved in drug deals. One detective who testified in court called the corner where the drug deal occurred a “trouble spot in the city”, and the combination of this knowledge along with the observation of two people shaking hands convinced law enforcement a drug deal had occurred. All of this information together was enough for the officer to be reasonably suspicious of the defendant, said the court. Because the officer did legitimately have a reason to search the car, it was acceptable for the marijuana to be used against the defendant in his trial. The defendant’s appeal was denied, and he was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison.
Are You Facing Drug Charges in New York?
If you have been charged with drug possession in New York, it is of the utmost importance that you have a qualified, hardworking criminal defense attorney by your side. At Tilem & Associates, we are familiar with the legal landscape in New York and are ready to walk you through the options available to you to fight your case. For a free and confidential consultation, give us a call at 877-377-8666 or contact us through our website.