In a recent New York gun crime case decided by a New York City trial court, one of two defendants filed a motion to suppress incriminating evidence. The court, looking at the circumstances surrounding the case, granted the defendant’s motion after considering the fact that the police officer that found the gun was not in immediate danger at the time of her search. As a result, the charges were dismissed.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, a New York police officer was on duty around 9:00 one morning when she was notified that a violent altercation had occurred nearby. The call reported that a woman’s ex-boyfriend had brought out a gun during a fight in the woman’s home. After the fight, the ex-boyfriend left the house and got into his car, driving away.
The officer began looking for the vehicle belonging to the ex-boyfriend, who later became one of the defendants in this case. About an hour later, the woman involved in the case called the officer to report that she had found the defendant’s car and that one of the defendant’s friends was sleeping inside the car. The officer immediately arrived at the car and knocked on the window, instructing the defendant’s friend to open the door.
The officer noticed a firearm in the driver’s side door pocket, and she arrested the friend as soon as he exited the vehicle. The friend became the second defendant in the case, and he was charged with one count of criminal possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress the firearm, arguing that the officer illegally obtained the firearm in her search of the vehicle.
In deciding whether or not to suppress the firearm, the court considered the circumstances of the officer’s search. As we have written in our prior blogs, New York Courts, pursuant to a case called Debour, recognize four types of police intrusions during street encounters with citizens. On the one hand, said the court, the officer was trying to ensure that she could find the gun as quickly as possible to keep the ex-girlfriend and the general public safe. Her search for the gun was thus based on a general public safety goal, and she was working within her duties as a police officer by looking for the gun in question.
On the other hand, the officer clearly knew that the man in the car was not the same person who had pulled out the gun while fighting with the ex-girlfriend. The vehicle was parked when the officer approached it, meaning there was no imminent risk that the driver would try and escape the officer as she approached. What’s more, the officer failed to ask for basic information from the man inside the car before attempting to open the vehicle’s door.
Because the officer thus did not have a reasonable belief that the car’s occupant was involved in criminal acts or that he posed a danger to her personal safety, it was unreasonable for the officer to try and open the car door without first further examining the situation. Accordingly, the court accepted the defendant’s motion to suppress, and the evidence of the firearm was barred from entering any court proceedings.
Have You Been Charged with a Firearms Offense in the State of New York?
If you are facing charges for gun possession in New York, give us a call at Tilem & Associates. We offer personalized solutions and aggressive representation to help you preserve the things that you value most. For a free consultation, call us at 877-377-8666.