Earlier this month, a federal court in New York issued an opinion in a burglary and larceny case, ruling on the defendant’s appeal of his motion to suppress. According to the defendant, the lower court had mistakenly denied his motion to suppress physical evidence as well as statements he made to police officers during an encounter in October 2018. The court ended up ruling in the State’s favor, deciding that the evidence should not have been suppressed and that the lower court was indeed correct in its ruling.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, early one morning in October 2018, an off-duty officer reported seeing a parked vehicle with one door open and no one in the general vicinity of the car. Two police officers drove to the scene and immediately saw three occupants inside the vehicle. Smelling burnt marijuana, the officers approached the car and asked the occupants what they were doing. The driver responded that they had been smoking marijuana, and the officers asked the occupants to exit the vehicle.
Upon a search of the car, the officers found sledgehammers, pry bars, and a bag of unopened cell phones. Suspicious of the occupants, the officers brought them to the police station for further investigation. The defendant, one of the occupants of the vehicle, was ultimately charged with and convicted of burglary, grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, and possession of burglar’s tools.
The defendant filed a motion to suppress, asking the court to exclude both the physical evidence and any incriminating statements to police officers. The defendant’s motion revolved around his argument that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to approach the vehicle and investigate the situation. The occupants had done nothing that could lead officers to believe there was criminal activity afoot; thus, the search of the vehicle and the conversations that occurred were unwarranted.
The court considered the defendant’s argument but ultimately rejected it. Given the off-duty officer’s call, said the court, the officers had reason to suspect something unusual was happening in or around the car. In addition, the law in 2018 stated that if an officer smelled marijuana coming from a car, that officer did have reason to investigate by searching the vehicle. Lastly, the driver’s statement about smoking marijuana justified the police conduct in asking the occupants to exit the car.
Given these facts, the officers’ behavior was appropriate in the situation. Because there were no issues in the officers’ conduct, said the court, the motion to suppress evidence was correctly denied.
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