Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun case, reversing a lower court that found the defendant’s motion to suppress lacked merit. In holding that the defendant’s motion should have been granted, the appellate court explained that the defendant’s conduct failed to provide the officer with probable cause to search the vehicle without a warrant.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, a police officer saw the defendant make a left turn without using a signal. As the officer initiated the traffic stop, the defendant pulled into a driveway. The defendant initially got out of the vehicle, but the officer told him to get back inside. The defendant was unable to open the window, explaining to the officer that it was broken. Eventually, the defendant moved to the passenger side, opened the door, and fled.
Once the officer caught the defendant, the defendant explained he ran because he had a warrant for his arrest. The officer went back to the defendant’s car, noticing the smell of marijuana. The officer looked through the car, finding small baggies and a substance that he believed was crack cocaine. The officer then obtained a warrant to fully search the car. Upon searching the vehicle, the officer found a semi-automatic handgun.
The defendant was arrested and charged for drug and gun crimes. In a pre-trial motion to suppress, he argued that the officer’s initial search of his vehicle was unjustified. The trial court disagreed, denying the defendant’s motion, and the defendant pled guilty. However, the defendant then appealed the denial of his motion.
On appeal, the court agreed with the defendant that his motion should have been granted. The court explained that, in general, warrantless searches are unreasonable unless they meet an exception to the warrant requirement. In the case of the automobile exception, the court went on to explain, police “may search a vehicle without a warrant when they have probable cause to believe that evidence or contraband will be found there.” However, there must also be a “nexus” between the reason for the arrest and the probable cause to search.
Here, the court was not convinced that the officer had probable cause to search the defendant’s vehicle. The court acknowledged that the defendant’s conduct in fleeing from the car justified the officer’s pursuit of the defendant; however, it did not provide a nexus to justify a search of the vehicle. The court noted that the officer did not find any drugs or weapons on the defendant and the defendant did not make any statements indicating that there may be contraband in the vehicle. Thus, the court ordered that the defendant’s motion to suppress be granted.
Have You Been Arrested for a New York Gun Crime?
If you have recently been arrested and charged with a New York gun crime, contact the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we have decades of collective experience defending the rights of those facing serious allegations including, gun possession, drug offenses, and violent crimes. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an experienced attorney, call 877-377-8666 today.