Articles Posted in Weapons Cases

Recently, a New York appellate court issued an opinion in a gun case involving a defendant who was shot twice and then was arrested for possession of a firearm. At trial, the court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. On appeal, the defendant argued that the officers who found the gun infringed upon his right to privacy by entering a residential building. The court disagreed, saying there was no legitimate privacy right and therefore that the evidence was obtained legally.

One night in June 2017, officers received a call for a domestic disturbance at the defendant’s home. Shortly thereafter, the officers caught sight of the defendant on the second floor of his home. They watched him open his window and throw a black backpack into the window of a building next door. He then exited the home onto the porch to talk to the police officers. The defendant told them that he had a gun several times.

Then, the defendant took out a gray-colored object. As he did, officers shot him twice. While he was being taken to the hospital, officers found the backpack, opened it up, and searched its contents. Inside they found a rifle and a smaller bag containing ammunition. Later, when interviewed by a detective, the defendant admitted he threw a black backpack out the window. He maintained, however, the backpack only had marijuana in it – he denied any existence of a rifle or of ammunition. The defendant was later convicted of criminal possession of a weapon, as well as several domestic violence offenses.

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.

Under the state and federal constitutions, individuals have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally, this requires that police officers obtain a warrant before searching a person’s home. However, just because the police get a warrant does not mean that the warrant itself cannot be challenged.

To be valid, a search warrant must list with “particularity” the places to be searched. This requirement ensures that a search conducted pursuant to a valid warrant remains reasonable. In a recent New York gun case, the court discussed the particularity requirement.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police officers obtained a warrant allowing them to search a particular residence. The warrant contained the correct street address. However, when police officers arrived to execute the warrant, they were told that the unit is actually three separate living spaces. The defendant apparently lived on the third floor, his mother on the first, and an unrelated party on the second floor.

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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.

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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