New York Court Sides with Defendant in Suppression Case, Emphasizing Importance of Fourth Amendment Protections

We have often said that suppression can be the best defense.  Recently, a New York defendant appealed a lower court’s decision to deny his motion to suppress physical evidence, and the higher court ruled in his favor. The defendant was originally indicted on one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon. He asked the lower court to suppress the gun found in his vehicle, and the trial court denied his motion. On appeal, however, the New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest Court, in a rare 4-3 decision overturned the lower Court decisions  and ultimately granted his appeal.

The Defendant’s Motion to Suppress

An officer first became suspicious of the defendant in this case when he saw the defendant and another individual pull into a parking lot, engage in a “loud conversation,” and walk from one person’s car to the other. The officer believed a drug-related transaction was occurring, especially, after he saw a third individual in the group, one that he knew had been arrested on drug charges in the past.

The officer approached the group, and the defendant began walking toward him. The officer frisked the defendant, found nothing, and then approached the car and saw a rolled dollar bill and white substance in the driver’s seat. He arrested the defendant, and upon a subsequent search, officers found additional narcotics and a handgun in the vehicle as well.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing the officer unlawfully seized the handgun and it therefore should not have been entered into evidence. According to the defendant, the officer’s seizure was a violation of his fourth amendment right to privacy. The trial court considered the defendant’s argument but ultimately denied his motion to suppress.

The Court’s Decision

On appeal, however, the court found the defendant’s argument more convincing. First of all, the officer did not have reasonable suspicion that the defendant was involved in a drug transaction. Had the officer had this reasonable suspicion, he would have been able to detain the defendant, but there was nothing in the record that would have given the officer good reason to suspect criminal activity. He never saw anything change hands between the individuals, and he was sitting 50-75 yards away when he witnessed the men talking. Moreover, the third individual that the officer recognized did not offer this reasonable suspicion, since the law warns against assuming guilt from an individual’s prior actions.

Secondly, despite the prosecution’s argument that contraband  was in the officer’s “plain view,” the police unlawfully detained and patted down the driver preventing him from getting away. The evidence was found as a result of the unlawful police conduct.  The handgun was clearly the result of a more detailed search of the car, and the officer was only able to search the car if he had, again, this reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot.

Accordingly, the search was unlawful, and the lower court’s decision was reversed. The handgun would therefore be suppressed.

Do You Need a New York Firearm Attorney?

If you are fighting firearm charges in New York, give us a call at Tilem & Associates. We take the time to understand which arguments courts tend to accept and which arguments they reject, so that we can stay up to date on current law and provide you with the most cutting-edge representation possible. For your free and confidential consultation with a New York firearm attorney, call us today at 877-377-8666. You can also fill out our online form and have a member of our team get back to you as soon as possible.


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