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.