New York Defendant Challenges Denial of Motion to Suppress in Recent Drug Case

In a recent New York Gun case before the Appellate Division, Second Department in New York, the defendant unsuccessfully asked for the court to reverse a trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress. The defendant originally faced charges for criminal possession of a weapon, unlawful possession of marijuana, and violations of two vehicle and traffic laws. He pled not guilty, and his case went to trial. After the jury found the defendant guilty as charged, he appealed the lower court’s decision not to suppress the marijuana that the police officers had found in his vehicle. Ultimately, the higher court agreed with the denial, affirming the lower court’s verdict.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant in this case was driving one evening when he threw a cigarette out the window of his car. A patrol car behind him immediately began following him, eventually pulling him over for a traffic stop.

A police officer approached the defendant and smelled marijuana on his person. He also noticed that there was a clear bag of marijuana in the front passenger seat. He asked the defendant to exit the vehicle; while the defendant exited, the officer searched the trunk of the car and found two unloaded firearms in a shoe box.

The officer arrested the defendant, and he was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, unlawful possession of marijuana, and violations of traffic laws. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the marijuana evidence, which the trial court denied. After a jury found the defendant guilty as charged, he promptly appealed the denial of his motion to suppress.

The Decision

The defendant’s main argument on appeal was that the officer did not have legal grounds to search his car. Because the officer did not have a reason to suspect criminal activity, he had no right to search the vehicle. The marijuana therefore should have been suppressed at trial, and the jury should not have been allowed to consider it when deciding that the defendant was guilty.

The higher court considered the defendant’s argument but ultimately disagreed. When an officer can smell marijuana emanating from a vehicle, said the court, that odor alone is enough to give the officer legal grounds to search the vehicle. Here, the officer both smelled the marijuana and saw a packet of it in the front seat. Because case law is clear that the odor serves as a basis for a vehicle search, the State’s use of the marijuana evidence was acceptable at trial. The court therefore denied the defendant’s appeal.  It is important to note that the traffic stop occurred in 2017 and the law has obviously changed since then.  This case would most likely be decided differently based upon current law.

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