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New York Court Suppresses Gun Seized in Warrantless Search of Backpack

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun case holding that police were not justified in searching the defendant’s backpack without a warrant. The case presents an informative and important discussion of the exigent-circumstances doctrine, which allows police to bypass the warrant requirement in certain limited situations.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers went to the defendant’s home based on a tip that a man was selling drugs out of the home. The tip also mentioned that the man selling drugs kept a gun in a distinctive backpack. Upon arriving at the scene, officers saw the defendant smoking a joint on the front porch. The defendant allegedly stood up, cursed, grabbed a distinctive looking backpack, and ran inside.

Officers followed the defendant into the home, and observed the defendant toss the backpack on the floor in the home. Police handcuffed the defendant on the second floor. After police secured the defendant, they opened the backpack. Inside the backpack was a gun and some marijuana. The defendant was charged with criminal possession of a weapon and possession of marijuana.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the drugs and gun, arguing that the officers had no justification to search his backpack without a warrant. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and he appealed the decision to a higher court.

On appeal, the court reversed the defendant’s convictions. The court held that the officers’ search of the backpack violated the defendant’s rights under Article I § 12 of the New York Constitution, which “shield[s] citizens from warrantless intrusions on their privacy interests, including their personal effects.” The court explained that the officers should have obtained a warrant to search the bag, which was not within the defendant’s immediate area of control because he was handcuffed. Elaborating on the point, the court went on to note that even a bag located near the defendant cannot be searched without a warrant “unless the circumstances leading to the arrest support a reasonable belief that the suspect may gain possession of a weapon or be able to destroy evidence located in the bag.” Here, however, the bag was not located near the defendant and he had no ability to get inside the bag to retrieve a weapon or destroy evidence. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress.

Have You Been Subject to an Illegal Search?

If you were recently arrested after a questionable search, contact the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we have assembled an experienced team of attorneys to represent our clients facing serious criminal accusations, including New York gun crimes, sex offenses, and drug crimes. Our lawyers can help you fight to keep unfavorable evidence out of the jury’s consideration, and are not afraid to take a case to trial when the prosecution refuses to make a fair offer on the case. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you face, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.