Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case discussing the defendant’s claim that officers searched him without possessing the necessary probable cause or reasonable suspicion. After reviewing the evidence and applying the relevant law, the appellate court agreed, finding that the defendant’s motion to suppress should have been granted. As a result, the indictment against the defendant was dismissed.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, police officers saw the defendant standing on the side of the road and mistook him for his brother, whom they knew had a warrant out for his arrest. As the officers approached the defendant, he fled on foot. Eventually, the officers caught up to the defendant and, upon searching him, found a loaded gun. Subsequently, the defendant made a statement admitting to possessing the gun.
In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant argued that the officers lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to approach him. The defendant asked the officers about the existence of the warrants and whether the warrants were still valid. However, the defendant did not specifically ask to see the warrants and the prosecution did not produce them. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant was later convicted.
On appeal, the defendant raised the same arguments as below. This time, the appellate court agreed with him. The court began by explaining that the prosecution bears the burden of proving that the police officer’s actions in conducting a search were legal. This requires either probable cause or reasonable suspicion, depending on the circumstances. The court also noted that the arrest of a person who was mistakenly thought to be someone else can be valid if, 1.) the officers had probable cause to arrest the person whom they thought the defendant to be and, 2.) the officer’s belief – although mistaken – was reasonable.
Here, the court held that by inquiring about the status of the warrants during the pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant was challenging their validity. This triggered a duty on the part of the prosecution to either produce the warrants or provide some other type of evidence substantiating the officers’ belief that the defendant’s brother had outstanding warrants. Because the prosecution failed to do so during the motion, the court explained that the lower court should have granted the defendant’s motion to suppress. Thus, the court reversed the lower court’s decision and dismissed the indictment.
Have You Been Arrested Following a Questionable Search?
If you have recently been arrested for a New York weapons crime after police officers conducted a search of your person, vehicle, or home, contact the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates. At our New York criminal defense firm, we represent clients facing all types of serious felony offenses, including gun crimes, drug offenses, violent crimes, and more. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with an experienced attorney to discuss how we can help you defend your freedom from the charges you are facing, call 877-377-8666 today.