New York Court Holds Officer’s Observation of “Bulge” in Defendant’s Pockets Did Not Justify Search

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York burglary case involving the defendant’s motion to suppress the physical evidence that police recovered when they searched his pockets. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer lacked probable cause to conduct the search, and the defendant’s motion was granted.

According to the court’s opinion, police received a call reporting a burglary in which a resident reported $5,500 was stolen. About an hour after the call, an officer came upon the defendant, who matched the description given to police, which was a person “in dark clothing.” The officer approached and asked the defendant for his identification. Initially, the defendant turned and walked away, but later approached the officer. According to the officer, the defendant put his hands into his pockets. The officer asked the defendant to remove his hands and place them on his head, and the defendant complied. The officer then noticed bulges in each of the defendant’s pockets. The officer patted the defendant down, and could not discern what the bulges were, although he could tell they were not weapons. The officer then reached into the defendant’s pockets and removed a large amount of cash. The defendant was arrested and charged with burglary.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the cash, arguing that the police officer did not have probable cause to reach into his pockets. The lower court granted the defendant’s motion, and the prosecution appealed.

On appeal, the court affirmed the granting of the defendant’s motion. The court explained that once the officer conducted the initial pat-down search and could not identify an object he believed to be a weapon, “the further intrusion of removing the contents of the defendant’s pants pockets was unlawful.”

The court rejected the prosecution’s argument that the search was valid based on the officer’s suspicion that the defendant committed the burglary, explaining that probable cause exists when a police officer is aware of “facts and circumstances sufficient to support a reasonable belief that an offense has been or is being committed.” The court noted that the defendant matched a loose description of the doer, and was in the area an hour after the crime was committed. This, without more, failed to give rise to probable cause that the defendant was the person who committed the burglary.

Have You Been Arrested After a Questionable Interaction with Police?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a serious crime after being stopped by police, contact the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at the law firm of Tilem & Associates. Police officers must respect the United States and New York constitutions and, if they fail to do so, any evidence they obtain as a result of a search cannot be used against a defendant. At Tilem & Associates, we have extensive experience aggressively defending clients who are facing all types of serious charges, including New York burglary crimes, robbery offenses, and other felony allegations. To learn more about how the attorneys at Tilem & Associates can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.

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