New York Court Rejects Defendant’s “Forced Abandonment” Claim

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.

In the recent case mentioned above, the court rejected the defendant’s claim that the drugs he tossed as he was running away from police should be suppressed. The facts were unique: the defendant’s lawyer received concerning text messages from the defendant’s phone causing her to believe that the defendant had been kidnapped. She called the police, who reviewed the defendant’s phone records. Detectives spoke to a woman, who explained the defendant was staying with her and had a large amount of drugs with him.

As police were speaking with the woman, the defendant pulled up in a blue SUV. Officers asked him out of the car and began to conduct a pat frisk, at which point the defendant fled, subsequently discarding the drugs.

The court explained that the defendant was involved in two “parallel investigations” – the missing person report and the allegations of drug possession. The court noted that, when police initially approached the defendant, their questions only focused on determining his identity, not whether he was involved in any criminal conduct. The court summarily concluded that the facts also justified the officer’s pat frisk of the defendant.

Have You Been Arrested After Discarding Evidence During a Police Chase?

If you were arrested and charged with a New York drug crime or gun offense after throwing an item in response to police officers’ demands, a criminal defense attorney may be able to successfully keep evidence out of trial through a motion to suppress. At the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel, we represent clients facing all types of possessory offenses. We command an in-depth understanding of the laws governing police investigations and take every step to hold police officers accountable when they overstep their authority. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with a West Chester criminal defense lawyer, call (914) 428-7386 today. You can also reach us through our online form.