New York Court Vacates Defendant’s Escape Conviction, Concluding Police Officers Were Not Actually Faced with an Emergency Situation

Recently, a New York court vacated a defendant’s criminal escape conviction after he challenged the lower court’s suppression ruling. Originally, the defendant was convicted after police officers claimed they had no choice but to search the defendant’s drawstring backpack since they were faced with an emergency situation that posed an immediate safety risk. The appellate court denied this claim, concluding that there was no such emergency and that the officers should not have actually searched the defendant’s backpack. Even though the defendant had already served time in prison, the court vacated the conviction that was based on his attempt to escape prison after having been arrested.  This is an extremely important Fourth Amendment, search and seizure case holding that absent an emergency or fear that the evidence will decay or be destroyed, the police may not search a closed container incident to a lawful arrest.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, police in New York received a call about the defendant trespassing in a residential building. Upon the police officers’ arrival, the building’s superintendent identified the defendant, who was standing near the building, as the trespasser. The officers approached the defendant and tried to ask him a few questions, but he cursed at them and fled. After the officers caught up to the defendant, they took him to the ground and handcuffed him. One officer suffered a knee injury as a result.

The other officer handcuffed the defendant, who was wearing a drawstring backpack and called for backup. The same officer patted down the defendant and the backpack; during this pat-down, the officer felt something in the backpack. Immediately looking inside, he found a box with the words “9mm” written on it. The officer removed the box, opened it, and saw what he believed to be an illegal silencer. The officer arrested the defendant for criminal trespass and weapon possession.

When the defendant arrived at the precinct, officers found drugs on his person. Detectives also tested items in the defendant’s backpack and discovered that the defendant was carrying a barrel extender, which is legal for the defendant to possess. At some point the same day, the defendant attempted to escape from his holding cell. He was later convicted in part for this attempt to escape.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the barrel extender, saying that the search of the backpack was illegal. Originally, the defendant’s motion to suppress was denied.

When the case made its way up to a higher court, the court concluded that the search of the backpack was not reasonably conducted. The court noted that police officers are allowed to search inside a defendant’s back if there is a true emergency, but that here, there was no such emergency and the officer should not have looked in the bag. According to the court, the State offered no evidence showing that the officer had reasonable grounds to believe that the backpack contained contents that would place his safety at risk. It was thus unreasonable for the officers to claim that there was an emergency, and the defendant should not have been held in prison in the first place. The escape conviction that resulted from this incident, said the court, should be vacated accordingly.

Have You Been Charged with Escape in New York?

If you or a loved one has been unfairly charged with a misdemeanor or felony crime in New York, you have options to defend yourself and it is important that you know your rights. At Tilem & Associates, we are a group of zealous advocates who are committed to exploring every possible option that can make sure your voice is heard. For a free and confidential consultation, call us at 877-377-8666 or contact us through our website.


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