Last month, a New York defendant in a firearms possession case successfully appealed an unfavorable decision from the lower court. Originally, the trial court had denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the gun in this case, which was found by the two officers that arrested the defendant. The defendant argued that officers actually did not have legal grounds to search him, and the trial court disagreed. On appeal, however, the higher court reversed this decision, ruling that the officers unlawfully searched the defendant on the night in question. As we have discussed on many occasions, suppression motions are often the best way to challenge gun possession cases.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant was sitting in a grassy area outside of a vacant house one evening. Police officers patrolling the area noticed that the defendant had an open container of alcohol, and they approached him to issue a citation for the offense.
As the officers approached, the defendant jumped up and attempted to run away. One of the officers tackled the defendant, and he was placed in handcuffs. The officers then arrested the defendant for violation of the local open container ordinance and for obstructing governmental administration. While officers were patting the defendant down, they found a gun on him and charged him with criminal possession of a firearm as well.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing the gun should not be admitted at trial. According to the defendant, the officers did not have reasonable grounds to search him, and thus the evidence was found based on an illegal search. If officers only found the gun through illegal means, the court should not admit the gun as evidence at trial.
The court of appeals looked at the evidence and ultimately agreed with the defendant. When the officers approached the defendant, he had no reason to know that they were planning to issue citations for the open container violation. They had not told the defendant that he should remain in place while they issued the citation. Thus, the defendant could not have purposefully avoided the officers’ citation if he did not know the citation was coming in the first place.
In this case, if the defendant was not intentionally trying to flee a citation, the officers did not have legal grounds to arrest him. The subsequent search was thus illegal, and the gun that the officers found should have been suppressed by the trial court.
After agreeing with the defendant, the court reversed the lower court’s denial of the motion to suppress and dismissed the indictment. The prosecutor attempted to save the case by arguing that the police had probable cause to arrest the defendant for other charges such as an open container or trespass. However, the Appellate Court pointed out that they only have the authority to review a decision made by the lower Court and cannot search to find other grounds that the lower Court did not rule on.
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