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Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case, requiring the court determine if the trial court properly granted the defendant’s motion to suppress a firearm he discarded as police were following him. Ultimately, the court held that the defendant was not seized when he tossed the gun. Thus, the lower court’s granting of the defendant’s motion was reversed.

The Defendant’s Arrest

According to the court’s opinion, an officer responded to a call for gunshots. As the officer arrived on the scene, he saw an unidentified person a few blocks away. The officer lost sight of the potential witness, but gave a description of the person over police radio. Another officer then encountered the defendant nearby. Initially, the officer did not consider the defendant a suspect. However, as the defendant went through a pedestrian cut-through, the officer followed in her vehicle. As the defendant reached the end of the alley, he tossed a gun and ran.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the weapon, as well as statements he made to law enforcement after his arrest. The defendant argued that he was seized without reasonable suspicion or probable cause when the officer followed him down the narrow pedestrian cut-through. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the prosecution appealed.

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Recently, the New York Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest Court, issued an opinion, in a New York gun case, which reversed a lower court’s denial of a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence a gun. The case arose after a police officer stopped the vehicle the defendant was traveling in after his patrol car’s mobile data terminal (MDT) notified him of a “similarity hit.” In response to the similarity hit, the police officer stopped the vehicle and noticed a handgun on the floor in front of the seat the defendant was occupying. The police officer arrested the defendant, even though the car was not registered to him, and he did not have a warrant. At trial, the defendant moved to suppress the evidence that the police officer obtained from the stop.

The police officer testified that it was part of his “routine” conduct to enter license plates into his car’s MDT. In some cases, such as the one at hand, a similarity hit will occur, which notifies an officer that there is a similarity between a person with a warrant and a vehicle’s registered owner. The officer explained that the MDT generates these similarity hits based on the registered owner’s name, date of birth, and aliases. He further testified that he believes that the MDT generates hits based on parameters he was unaware of. In this case, the officer received a similarity hit, and without any other information, he pulled the car over. The officer admitted that after pulling the car over, he did not believe the driver was the subject of the warrant because the driver was female and the subject of the similarity hit, the registered owner, was a male. After discovering the gun and arresting the defendant, he realized that the individual with the warrant did not match anyone in the vehicle, or the car’s registered owner. The defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence obtained from the stop was based on the factual sufficiency of the basis of the stop.

Under New York law, if the state faces a sufficiency challenge, they must present evidence to establish that the stop was lawful. Generally, courts hold that vehicle stops are lawful if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the vehicle’s driver or occupants have committed or are in the process of committing a crime. However, the state must point to specific facts, in conjunction with logical deductions, that point to the stop’s lawfulness. In most cases, reasonable suspicion inquiries are a question of law and fact. However, in cases such as this, the question is whether the state’s evidence meets the “minimum showing”, and is, therefore, a question of law.

Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York attempted murder case, requiring the court to discuss the elements of an “attempt.” The court ultimately found that the defendant’s actions did not constitute an attempt, and vacated his conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was incarcerated for alleged acts of domestic violence. While in jail, the defendant approached a fellow inmate who was going to be released soon. The defendant asked the inmate to kill his wife and mother-in-law. In exchange for this, the defendant promised to give him a home.

The inmate had no intention of carrying out the defendant’s request, but played along. He told the defendant that he could do it, and gave the defendant a phone number to reach him after his release. The defendant provided detailed instructions on how he wanted the inmate to kill his wife and mother-in-law.

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In New York, law enforcement may impound a person’s car for several reasons, and not all of the reasons require the commission of a crime. However, the main reasons police officers may impound a car occur when the driver is driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, if the car is abandoned or illegally parked, if the vehicle contains evidence of a crime, or if the car presents a safety hazard. In any event, many law enforcement officials improperly impound cars because they do not know or want to follow the state’s impounding rules. Moreover, the impound lot owners often relish in the hefty fees associated with impounded vehicles, and are reluctant to release the car. Car owners must understand the rules and procedures surrounding impounding to avoid illegal searches and retrieve their vehicle without significant penalties.

Although impounding poses significant financial burdens, the more pressing issue is what scope of authority law enforcement has after the car has been impounded. Usually, police will conduct an inventory search and catalog their findings after the car has been impounded. This typically occurs to document the contents of the vehicle and protect the police from hidden dangers or theft accusations. However, in some situations, police officers may improperly impound and search a vehicle. In these cases, any recovered evidence from an illegal search may be suppressed.

For example, recently, the Supreme Court of the State of New York, issued an opinion in a case involving evidence retrieved from a defendant’s impounded vehicle. In that case, the defendant was convicted of several serious criminal offenses. After conviction, the defendant argued that the court should vacate several of his convictions because the evidence used to convict him was illegally obtained. Under New York’s laws, the police may impound a car and conduct an inventory search after a driver’s arrest if they act according to “reasonable police regulations.” Additionally, the police may impound a vehicle without a warrant in the interests of public safety and “community caretaking.” In this case, the court found no evidence that the defendant’s vehicle was illegally parked or that the car was in a location where it may be ripe for theft or vandalism. Further, the State failed to present evidence of the New York Police Department’s procedure regarding impounding a car after an arrest, or that the police officer followed those alleged procedures.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York homicide case involving a defendant’s appeal of his conviction. The defendant appealed the lower court’s decision to admit his statement to police in the moments after the murder. However, the appellate court found that there was no error in admitting the statement. The court further explained that, if there was any error in admitting the statement, doing so was harmless.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was alleged to have killed another man, whom he met out on the street around 2 a.m. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was drinking beer with friends. Throughout the evening, the defendant expressed some violent thoughts, and discussed his gang membership.

With Corona Virus (Covid-19) restrictions increasing just a week before Thanksgiving and the Governor of New York dictating how many people may attend a Thanksgiving Dinner at your house it is worth reviewing what rights you have if police unexpectedly show up at your door.  This situation could arise for a variety of reasons including a crime committed nearby having nothing to do with you and the police just wanting to canvass the area for witnesses and/or cameras or a noise complaint or some other complaint called in by your neighbors.    Often police may accompany a Child Protective Services (CPS) worker responding to a child abuse or neglect report or the police may sometimes knock and ask questions about a missing child, or adult.  In any case, it is important to understand your rights.

Firstly, Courts recognize the right of the police officers to approach your door and knock or ring the door bell.  Secondly, it is important to recognize that police officers are people, just like anyone else.  There job is difficult and important and they should be treated with courtesy and respect at all times.   It is also essential that you not give a police officer or anyone else that comes to your door any reason to fear for their safety by making any sudden movements or answering the door with a visible weapon.

There is absolutely no requirement that you answer the door if the police knock.  Just as if a police officer were to approach you on the street you have no obligation to speak to the officer and no obligation to answer the door.  The police officer may not enter your home except with your consent, with a search warrant, arrest warrant or in some very narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement.  Rarely, will police officers have a warrant and then casually knock on the door.  If they have a warrant they will either break down the door without  knocking or announce that they are the police and that they have a warrant and that they will breakdown the door if you don’t open the door immediately.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York manslaughter case, affirming the defendant’s conviction after dismissing his challenge to the way in which the prosecution obtained a sample of his DNA. In so doing, the court explained how law enforcement officials can legally obtain DNA evidence from a suspect who has yet to be charged with a crime.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, four men belonging to the gang, Young Gunnaz, drove a Gold Nissan into a rival gang’s territory. The person in the car’s passenger seat exited the vehicle and shot and killed a 16-year-old. The incident was caught by a surveillance camera, but no identification could be made from the footage.

Law enforcement tracked down the owner of the Gold Nissan, who became a cooperating witness. He identified the defendant as the shooter, and explained that, after the shooting, the men went back to their apartment building. The driver allowed the police to take a DNA sample from the car’s front passenger seat area.

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Throughout the New York criminal trial process, it is not uncommon for comments or evidence to come into the trial that could prejudice either side. Courts take precautions to instruct attorneys and witnesses not to say certain things, and to avoid particular topics. However, the jury will inevitably be exposed to comments or evidence that it should not have seen or heard. When this happens, it may result in a mistrial. However, courts are reluctant to declare a mistrial unless absolutely necessary and, in many cases, will provide the jury with a “curative instruction” instead.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York assault case discussing whether a juror’s comments during the trial necessitated a mistrial. Ultimately, the appellate court held that the trial court’s curative instruction was sufficient to cure any prejudice to the defense.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was on trial for second-degree assault. Two other men were also on trial for the same crime. During the trial, in an attempt to goad the complaining witness, one of the defendants’ attorneys repeatedly asked the complaining witness whether he referred to the defendant by a racial slur. The defense attorney used the actual word, rather than self-editing. After repeating the word multiple times, one of the jurors stood up and exclaimed, “Please, I am not going to sit here . . . and have you say that again. Don’t say it again or I’m leaving. . . . I find that very offensive.”

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Earlier this month, a state appellate our released an opinion in a New York drug case in which the defendant was alleged to have sold cocaine. The defendant claimed that the evidence obtained as a result of his arrest must be suppressed, because it was obtained in violation of his constitutional rights. Ultimately, the court agreed that the officers lacked justification to stop him, ordering a new trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were conducting an undercover drug surveillance. Officers sat in a car as they watched the defendant interact with another person. Although the officers were looking at the defendant’s back, and could not see what, if anything, was exchanged, they believed it to be a drug transaction.

The officers called in back-up to stop both the defendant, and the alleged buyer. Officers pulled the defendant over and immediately took him out of the car, and placed him in handcuffs. The officers then questioned the defendant, who admitted to possessing cocaine. The officers then retrieved cocaine from his pocket. Other officers stopped the alleged buyer and returned her to the scene, where she identified the defendant as the person who sold her the cocaine.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York robbery case discussing whether the defendant’s statements were admissible at trial. The defendant claimed that statements were not voluntary, as they were only made in response to factually incorrect comments made by the interviewing officers. Specifically, the defendant argued that by telling him that admitting to the crime would be better for him in the long-run, the police officers coerced him into making an admission. Not surprisingly, given the long history of police officers being allowed to lie to suspects, the court disagreed, and affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

The Facts of the Case

The facts of the underlying offense are not laid out in the court’s opinion, as they are not relevant to the question before the court. However, the court explained that the defendant had been arrested on suspicion of robbery. After his arrest, the defendant waived his Miranda rights and agreed to speak with law enforcement. During the interrogation, officers told the defendant that it would be to his advantage to admit to them what happened. The defendant admitted to his role in the robbery.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant raised several arguments. However, he did not argue the issue he later raised on appeal.

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