Articles Posted in Search and Seizure

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.

State and federal constitutional protections prevent police officers from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. In most New York gun cases, an officer finds a gun on a person or in their car. However, in some cases, police start to chase a defendant, and they toss the gun during the chase. In these cases, whether the gun is admissible at trial depends on if the police officers were justified in their pursuit of the defendant.

A recent case decided by a New York appellate court illustrates this concept. According to the court’s opinion, an anonymous person called 911 to report a group of men, armed with guns. The caller gave police a description of five to seven black men, one of which had a coat that was black and tan, and another with a black coat.

One officer came to the scene to find a man wearing a black-and-tan coat. The officer asked the man if he would consent to a pat-down, which he did, and the officer didn’t find anything. Another officer saw the defendant, wearing a black coat. This officer followed the defendant, providing his whereabouts to other officers over police radio.