Articles Posted in Recent Court Decisions

In a recent opinion from a New York court involving a robbery conviction, the court denied the defendant’s request to suppress his incriminating statements. The defendant was found guilty of robbery in the second degree and the third degree; he appealed by arguing that the officer that arrested him lacked probable cause to make the arrest in the first place, and thus that any statements that came after the arrest should be excluded from court. The court disagreed, ultimately denying the defendant’s appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was driving his car when he rolled through a stop sign and was stopped by a police officer. The officer asked to see the defendant’s driver’s license, registration, and insurance; as he pulled out these items, the officer noticed a can of pepper spray in the defendant’s glove compartment. The officer also noticed during the stop that the defendant’s car matched the make, color, and partial license plate number of a car that had been involved in robberies in the same area the previous evening. The officer also remembered that during these robberies, one of the victims was pepper-sprayed in the eyes.

Given the circumstances, the officer arrested the defendant for criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree, inferring from what he noticed during the stop that the defendant was a suspect for the crime. After the arrest, the defendant made incriminating statements that were later used against him in court. After trial, the defendant was convicted of three counts of robbery in the second degree as well as robbery in the third degree.

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What happens when a New York defendant tosses evidence as he or she is fleeing from the police? The answer depends on the police action leading up to the stop.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York drug possession case involving the concept of forced abandonment. Under the state and federal constitutions, police officers must have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to justify a search of a person or their belongings. In situations where a defendant discards an item, that is typically not seen as a “search.” Thus, situations that involve a defendant who voluntarily tosses items may not implicate their constitutional protections, because no “search” was conducted.

However, if a defendant discards an item in response to a police officer’s illegal attempt to stop them, the object may be suppressible under the theory of forced abandonment. Forced abandonment is a legal term used to describe a situation where a defendant discards evidence in response to illegal police activity, often during a police foot pursuit. The idea behind the doctrine is that police officers “seize” a defendant when they initiate the stop. If officers lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion at that point, the evidence is suppressible—regardless of whether the defendant keeps it on them or tosses it away.

Filing an appeal is one of the most critical steps in a New York criminal defendant’s attempt to avoid serious penalties and incarceration. In most instances, an appeal follows a trial and sentencing. New York appeals generally involve a defendant making a pleading to the appellate court to issue a motion for retrial, resentencing, or overturning a ruling. New York criminal defendants do not possess the same rights during appeals as they do at trial. As such, criminal defendants should consult with an experienced New York criminal defense attorney to develop the best course of action.

In most cases, New York criminal defendants appeal their cases based on more than one issue. Appeals may stem from improper police investigations, incorrect legal decisions, or other constitutional claims. Multiple appeal issues often present complicated statutory and procedural issues. In these cases, courts may wholly affirm the trial court’s ruling, partially affirm, or entirely overturn the lower court’s ruling.

For instance, a New York criminal defendant recently appealed a judgment from a trial court where he was convicted of two counts of murder in the second degree, two counts of attempted murder in the second degree, three counts of robbery in the first degree, two counts of assault in the first degree, attempted assault, and seven counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. The case arose from incidents over a two-month span where two men were killed, and three others suffered injuries. The court affirmed the majority of the trial court’s ruling but partially agreed with the defendant’s assertions regarding the admissibility of his statements to the police.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun case discussing the concept of an inventory search. An inventory search is a type of search, usually conducted by police officers or tow-truck drivers, that is performed to determine what is in a vehicle before the searching party takes control of the vehicle. The purpose of an inventory search is to identify what is inside a vehicle, to limit the possible liability should a dispute later arise about something in the vehicle coming up missing. Inventory searches are only permissible when conducted for a non-investigatory purpose.

The Facts of the Case

The court’s recitation of the facts giving rise to the case was brief. However, it appears that the defendant was arrested after he had parked his car “on the corner.” The court’s opinion does not explain what the initial arrest was for. However, after the defendant was arrested, police officers decided to impound the defendant’s vehicle. Before impounding the vehicle, police searched the car, finding a weapon.

Lawmakers draft criminal statutes very intentionally, and every word in a law should have meaning. Thus, when courts are tasked with determining whether certain conduct falls within the scope of a criminal law, the first place the court looks is to the language contained in the statute itself.

In some cases, reading a statute and coming to a conclusion is not a difficult task. However, other situations present circumstances that the drafters of the law may not have thought of when they wrote the law. The court, then, must decide what the legislature’s intention was, and whether the facts in front of the court fit within the statute.

A good example of this is a recent New York theft case, in which the defendant was charged with grand larceny in the fourth degree. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was a personal assistant to the alleged victim. As the woman’s personal assistant, the defendant had access to her corporate credit card information and her Uber account information.

It’s common knowledge that you can be prosecuted for a New York gun crime if police officers find a gun on you. But what about if the police find a gun in the car you are riding in? Or if they find a gun in your home or hotel room? In these situations, the doctrine of constructive possession comes into play.

Constructive possession is a legal concept by which a court can find that a person had “control” over an item, even though the object was not in that person’s physical possession at the time. In a recent New York gun case, the court was tasked with determining whether the defendant could be found guilty of possession although the gun was not found on his person.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers got a call that a person was bleeding in front of a residence. When police officers got to the scene, they saw the defendant outside. He was bleeding from the neck. The defendant told police that he was inside his home, when he was shot through a window.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun case, affirming the lower court’s decision to suppress a weapon found in the defendant’s vehicle that was parked outside his home. The case required the court to determine if the officers’ search of the defendant’s car fell outside the scope of the search warrant police officers obtained after allegedly observing him sell heroin from his home.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers conducted a stake-out in front of the defendant’s home. During the course of their investigation, officers watched on several occasions as the defendant or one of his associates would leave the home and deliver an item to someone standing in the street in exchange for money. Police officers also arranged to make several controlled buys.

Detectives obtained a search warrant. The affidavit in support of the warrant requested the officers be allowed to search the defendant and “the entire premises.” Police officers executed the search warrant and found a gun inside the home. However, someone other than the defendant was charged with the gun found inside the home.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case involving a police officer’s search of the defendant’s car. In a pre-trial motion to defendant argued that the officers lacked probable cause to stop his car, which ultimately led to his arrest. However, the court determined that the traffic stop was valid.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, at around 1 a.m., police officers observed the defendant driving a car without a working headlight. Police pulled over the defendant’s vehicle, at which point they smelled marijuana. The officers asked for the defendant’s information, which he provided to them. However, the officers discovered that the defendant had an open arrest warrant. The officers also saw an expandable baton in plain view.

As the officers were processing the defendant, he asked what was taking so long. The officers responded that they were waiting for the K-9 Unit to search the car. The defendant responded, “you can do that all you want, whatever’s in the car, the car’s not registered to me, my prints aren’t on it.” The police then obtained a search warrant and found a gun inside the car.

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The United States and New York constitutions provide certain rights to citizens. Among these protections include the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally, police officers need to obtain a warrant to conduct a search. However, there are certain situations where a police officer’s actions are not considered a “search” under the law. In a recent New York burglary case, the court discusses one such situation, called an “inventory search.”

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a police officer attempted to stop the defendant for expired registration. The defendant led the officer on a high-speed chase, before crashing into a marsh. The defendant’s vehicle was disabled, and police called a towing company to tow the car.

When the tow truck driver arrived on the scene, he searched through the car to take an inventory of what was inside. Tow truck companies do this to avoid potential liability, in case the owner of the vehicle later claims there was something of value that turned up missing after their vehicle was towed. The tow truck driver located several high-value tools.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York weapons case illustrating the importance of a detailed review of the evidence and effective cross-examination skills. The case involved a traffic stop during which police found a sawed-off shotgun wedged under the driver’s seat. Police also claim to have discovered a matching shotgun shell in the defendant’s pocket. However, because the evidence relied upon by the court did not match up with the testimony at the suppression hearing, the court reversed the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers initiated a traffic stop after noticing that a vehicle’s license plate didn’t match up with the type of car in the police database. Video evidence of the stop—as well as officer testimony—established that the defendant, who was seated in the rear passenger seat, bent down to the left as the car was coming to a stop. Ultimately, police officers found a sawed-off shotgun under the driver’s seat (near where the defendant was seen bending down) and a matching shotgun shell in the defendant’s pocket.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, the defendant argued that the officers lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion to search the vehicle. The trial court rejected the defense motion, finding that the officers conducted a limited pat-down of the defendant for their own safety, at which point they found the shotgun shell. According to the court, this gave the officers probable cause to search the rest of the vehicle, at which point they found the shotgun.

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