Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York burglary case involving the lower court’s decision that the defendant was not able to appeal his conviction. The case involved two separate burglaries, and the defendant’s motion to suppress evidence that related to one of those burglaries.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, a police officer, acting on a tip, stopped the defendant based on suspicion that he was involved in a prior burglary. The officer asked the defendant to remove his hands from his pockets, noticing that the defendant had something in his hands. The officer asked the defendant to open his hands, and discovered that it was a small bag of jewelry. The defendant claimed he bought the jewelry from a nearby yard sale. However, when the officer took the defendant to the yard sale to confirm his story, the homeowner denied ever owning the jewelry. The defendant was eventually arrested for two prior burglaries.
The defendant filed a pretrial motion to suppress, arguing that the officer lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop him. Because of this, the defendant claimed that the jewelry should have been suppressed. The court denied the defendant’s motion, and the defendant pleaded guilty to one count of burglary. Importantly, the count of burglary that the defendant pleaded guilty to was not the one related to the jewelry.
The defendant filed an appeal of the denial of his motion. However, the appellate court determined that the defendant lacked the right to appeal the motion ruling, because it was not related to the charge for which he ultimately pleaded guilty. One justice on the panel dissented, allowing the defendant to appeal to the state’s high court.
On appeal, the court agreed with the defendant and the dissenting justice. The court first noted that New York appellate procedure allows “an order finally denying a motion to suppress evidence may be reviewed upon an appeal from an ensuing judgment of conviction notwithstanding the fact that such judgment is entered upon a plea of guilty.” The court also noted that New York provides ample opportunity for review, and only denies appellate review if the defendant pleaded guilty before litigating the motion to suppress.
Here, the court found that the defendant’s decision to plead guilty would necessarily depend on the result of his motion to suppress, even if the motion was based on a separate case. In this case, the defendant was a prior offender who faced up to 30 years in prison if convicted. After his motion was denied, he accepted a plea of six years imprisonment. The court was concerned that to hold otherwise would insulate erroneous decisions from review.
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