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New York Court Determines Warrantless Search of Motorhome Was Illegal

A state court recently issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case requiring the court to determine if a gun found in the defendant’s motor home was the product of an illegal search. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant’s motorhome was afforded the same protection as any other residence, and that the warrantless search was not justified.

The Facts of the Case

Police received a call that someone was stealing electricity by connecting their motorhome up to a telephone wire. Police responded to the scene to see the defendant’s motorhome connected to a nearby telephone pole by a wire coming out of the top of the motorhome.

According to police, an officer knocked on the door of the motorhome. When the defendant answered, police asked him about the wire, and the defendant admitted it was not legal. Police then put the defendant in handcuffs and walked him toward the police car. On the way to the car, police claimed that the defendant said “there is a gun in there.” Another officer then went into the motorhome, located the gun, and confiscated it.

The defendant’s version of events was different. The defendant testified that, once he opened the door, he saw five armed officers. He was asked about the electricity, and admitted it was not legal. Then he was placed in handcuffs. The defendant was then asked whether there was anything he wanted to get rid of before he was arrested, and the defendant replied “you can’t search my motorhome,” to which one officer said, “watch me.” Officers then broke the lock to the motorhome and entered the vehicle. Once officers were inside, the defendant told them that there was a gun in one of the cabinets.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress based on the warrantless search of his motorhome. The court determined that, while the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant, they did not establish that they had consent to search the motorhome. The court began its analysis with a lengthy discussion about whether the defendant’s motorhome was afforded the privacy rights of a home or a vehicle. Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence suggested the motorhome was being used as a residence, and thus should be afforded the same right to privacy as a home.

From there, the court went on to discuss whether the police had valid consent to enter the motorhome and conduct a search. The court explained that the prosecution has a heavy burden when it attempts to establish consent to search a private residence, and that consent will not be found when the “circumstances supporting consent are no greater than the circumstances negating consent.”

Here, with sparse analysis, the court stated that the prosecution failed to meet its burden. Although the court did not mention it specifically, it would seem that the court made a credibility determination in favor of the defendant’s testimony because, had the officer’s story been credited in whole, the search would likely have been upheld.

Have You Been the Victim of Illegal Police Activity?

If you have recently been charged with a crime after being subject to an illegal search or traffic stop, you should contact the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at the law firm of Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we represent those who have been charged with serious New York crimes to defend their freedom, and have been doing this for decades. We have a team of experienced and passionate New York criminal defense attorneys who believe strongly in what they do and are ready to talk with you about your case. Call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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