New York Court Grants Defendant Passenger’s Motion to Suppress after Police Find Sawed-Off Shotgun in Vehicle

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.

At trial, the defendant argued that the evidence suggesting he possessed the gun was insufficient. He claimed that he was intoxicated at the time, and did not know the shotgun was in the car. He also claimed that the police planted the shotgun shell on him. The defendant was convicted and appealed.

On appeal, the defendant raised two issues. First, that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction. The court explained that, whenever a gun is found in a vehicle, there is a presumption that all occupants knowingly possessed the gun. Thus, there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict.

The defendant’s second issue involved the denial of his motion to suppress. The defendant claimed that the trial court’s basis for denying the motion was not an accurate recitation of the record. Specifically, the evidence during the suppression hearing indicated that police first searched the car and found the gun, and then searched the defendant. Because the trial court’s version of the facts was incorrect, the appellate court had no choice but to reverse the lower court’s ruling and remand the case of further findings.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York Weapons Offense?

If you have recently been arrested for a New York weapons offense, contact the dedicated criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel for immediate assistance. In weapons cases, in particular, police officers often overstep their authority, violating a defendant’s rights. Our attorneys have extensive experience arguing motions to suppress in all types of weapons cases, including those involving traffic stops. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call (914) 428-7386, or you can reach us through our online form.