In a recent New York drug offense case subject to appellate review in the state of New York, the defendant challenged the lower court’s denial of his motion to suppress. The defendant was originally stopped by a police officer after the officer saw him exit his vehicle and pull up his pants. Arguing the officer did not have legal grounds to stop him, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the drugs that the officer eventually found on his person. The trial court denied the motion, and the defendant promptly appealed.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant was sitting in his car one evening when an officer on patrol stopped behind his car to observe. The officer saw the defendant move from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat. He then saw the defendant exit the vehicle and pull up his pants as he walked out.
The officer approached the defendant and, after a brief exchange, patted him down. At that point, the officer found marijuana and heroin on the defendant’s person. He was criminally charged, and he quickly filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the drugs. Once that motion was denied, the defendant appealed.
On appeal, the defendant argued that the officer had no reason to suspect that he was committing or about to commit any crime. During the hearing on the motion to suppress, the officer had testified that his grounds for stopping the defendant were 1) the fact that he moved from one seat to another in the vehicle and 2) the fact that he pulled up his pants upon exiting the car. Neither of these facts, argued the defendant, constituted legal grounds to suspect that he was committing a crime, and the motion to suppress was improperly denied.
Reviewing the record of the case, the higher court agreed with the defendant. To justify this kind of stop and frisk, the officer needed “reasonable suspicion that the particular person has committed or is about to commit a crime.” Here, said the court, the defendant’s actions gave the officer no reason to suspect that he was going to do anything illegal. His actions were perfectly normal, and the officer was not justified in conducting the stop and frisk.
Therefore, the court sided with the defendant, reversing the lower court’s denial of the motion to suppress.
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