New York Court Suppresses Gun Found in Defendant’s Vehicle Based on Invalid Citizen’s Arrest Conducted by U.S. Customs Agent

A New York state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun case presenting an interesting issue. Specifically, the case requires the court to determine if the defendant’s arrest was illegal because a U.S. Customs agent initiated a traffic stop outside of his jurisdiction and without authority to conduct the stop.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a U.S. Customs agent was traveling on the highway in an unmarked truck when he observed the defendant driving dangerously. After the agent unsuccessfully tried to reach police through the radio in his vehicle, he called 911. As the agent was on hold with 911, the defendant’s vehicle exited the highway.

The agent continued to follow the defendant and eventually engaged his vehicle’s emergency overhead lights to stop the defendant. The defendant stopped, and the agent waited for on-duty officers to arrive, at which point the agent was sent home. During a search of the defendant’s car, a gun was found. The defendant was charged with criminal possession of a firearm.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun, arguing that the traffic stop conducted by the U.S. Customs agent was illegal because the agent was outside his jurisdiction and had no authority to conduct the stop. The prosecution acknowledged these facts, but argued that the traffic stop should be upheld as a valid citizen’s arrest.

Under New York law, “any person may arrest another person … for any offense when the latter has in fact committed such offense in his [or her] presence.” However, the law only allows for a citizen to make a citizen’s arrest. Law enforcement officers who act “under color of law and with all the accouterments of official authority” cannot make a citizen’s arrest.

Here, the court explained that the U.S. Customs agent, although not a law enforcement officer, acted “under color of law and with all the accouterments of official authority.” The court pointed to the fact that the agent engaged his red-and-blue emergency lights to stop the defendant, and that the defendant would not likely have stopped absent the agent’s use of the lights. The court also reasoned that citizens are prohibited from displaying red-and-blue lights for the very reason that they are used by law enforcement.

Have You Been Arrested after an Illegal Search?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a serious New York crime after police searched you or your property, you should contact the dedicated New York criminal defense law firm of Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we represent clients who are facing all types of serious criminal charges and help them defend their freedom by aggressively fighting for our clients’ rights at every stage. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 877-377-8666.

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