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Court Decides Constitutionality of Seizure Law

In the fall of 2005, residents of the six-story Housing Authority apartment building complained to the Police Department’s Housing Bureau about criminal law violations, trespassing in the building, crack possession and drug sales occurring in the building’s lobby. The police officer’s superiors in the Bureau passed on the complaint to him, and he thereafter performed daily vertical patrols of the building. During the fall and winter, he participated in ten to fifteen trespass or narcotics arrests in the building, most in the lobby. The prevalent illegal activity was not curtailed until early March.

A New York Drug Crime Lawyer said on the night of February 14, 2006, the police officer and his partner entered the building in plainclothes, their guns holstered but their shields displayed, to conduct a vertical patrol on their own initiative. As the officers entered the well-lit lobby, the accused, whom the police officer did not recognize, was standing by the lobby elevator, about ten feet from the officers and face-to-face with them, conversing with a man. The police officer could not hear what was being said.

The officer announced that they were the police. The man said something to the accused, and the accused fled towards a stairwell leading from the lobby to the upper stories of the building. The officers ran after him, calling them out to stop. As the accused ran up the stairs, between the ground and second stories, the officer, trailing shortly behind, saw the accused throw or drop several small green baggies. A New York Drug Possession Lawyer said the police officer recognized them from his training and past arrests to be characteristic crack-cocaine packaging, and believed they contained crack-cocaine. The officer called the accused to stop but he kept running.

The officer finally caught up with the accused on the fifth floor, where he found the accused knocking on an apartment door. The officer drew his gun, and ordered the accused to remove his hands from his pockets. When the accused failed to do so, the officer pushed him against the wall and they rear-cuffed him. The officer asked the accused his name and where he lived. At some point on the fifth floor, persons in the apartment that the accused had been trying to enter told the police they knew him. The accused at some point told the police that he did not live in the building.

After apprehending the accused, the officer went back to where the accused had thrown the baggies, and recovered four small green baggies of cocaine just a few steps above the door leading from the lobby to the stairwell. The man who was with the accused before the chase, still downstairs, was arrested on a charge of loitering for the purpose of using narcotics.

The police brought the accused to the station house. He was searched and the officers recovered money from his pockets. At about 1:22 a.m. that night, the officer helped the accused make a telephone call to his mother, and stood by while the accused spoke to her.

The officer heard the accused tell his mother he ran, but they didn’t find him with anything.

As noted, the accused seeks suppression on the grounds that the police lacked adequate justification to approach him to request information, and to pursue him when he fled. The arguments state no claim under the Fourth Amendment as the accused seemingly do not dispute.

In this regard, a police officer’s mere approaching of an individual in a public place, and the officer’s putting of questions to him, does not constitute a Fourth Amendment seizure absent circumstances which would lead a reasonable person to conclude that he was not free to leave. A Nassau County Drug Possession Lawyer said the Fourth Amendment accordingly does not interdict such inquiries, even if carried out without any basis for suspecting the person questioned. The accused man’s complaint that the police lacked adequate justification to question him in the lobby therefore finds no support in the Fourth Amendment.

Nor is a person seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when the police pursue or otherwise attempt to detain him, but have not yet laid hands on him, and he has not submitted to their authority. Accordingly, the Fourth Amendment affords no basis either for suppressing the direct fruits of such a pursuit, such as property jettisoned by the fleeing suspect, or for suppressing the fruits of an ensuing seizure of the fugitive on the ground that the seizure was justified only by observations during the putatively-improper pursuit. Accordingly, the accused man’s complaint that the police pursuit was improper affords no federal basis for suppression New York, however, regulates police conduct more thoroughly. As a matter of State common law, even police-citizen encounters which do not rise to the seizure level are governed by court-crafted rules intended to balance the needs of law enforcement against citizens’ interests in avoiding unjustified harassment. A Queens Drug Possession Lawyer said the New York courts have forbidden police officers, on pain of suppression, from initiating questioning for law-enforcement purposes absent an objective, credible reason, not necessarily indicative of criminality.

Further, the Court of Appeals, construing the State Constitution, has rejected the conclusion that a seizure of the person requires physical apprehension or submission to authority. Rather, under New York law, one may be seized if the police action results in a significant interruption of the individual’s liberty of movement. In particular, police pursuit of a fleeing suspect has been determined to constitute a limited detention or infringement on freedom of movement, rising to seizure level.

Indeed, as a matter of State constitutional law, the police are forbidden from pursuing a fleeing suspect absent reasonable suspicion that the suspect has committed or is about to commit a crime. Reasonable suspicion represents that quantum of knowledge sufficient to induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious person under the circumstances to believe criminal activity is at hand. Even flight which frustrates a proper police inquiry does not, absent reasonable suspicion, permit pursuit.

The accused stakes his claim on these State-law principles. More particularly, he asserts that the officer and his partner possessed no objective, credible reason to question him in the lobby, and that their approach for that purpose was therefore unauthorized. Further, he asserts that they lacked reasonable suspicion justifying their pursuit when he fled.

The accused is charged with criminal crack possession. The court contend that as the police approached the accused in the apartment building lobby, the accused fled, throwing cocaine to the ground as the police pursued. By motion papers filed, the accused moved to suppress the drugs and statements he made in the wake of his arrest. The court opposed the motion in papers dated. By an oral order and worksheet endorsement, the court ordered that a hearing be held to resolve the parties’ conflicting positions.

Following the hearing, the parties submitted legal memoranda which clarified their positions. In a letter-brief, the accused contends that the police lacked adequate justification both to approach to question him, and to pursue when he ran. He contends that police testimony to his throwing the drugs, and the drugs themselves, should be suppressed as the fruits of asserted improprieties. While his brief does not explicitly address the statements, his position seemingly implies that they should likewise be suppressed as fruits of the intrusions which precipitated his arrest. The court opposed the contentions. According to the court, the police were justified in approaching the accused to request information and in pursuing him when he fled. The court stress, throughout all the post-hearing submissions, that the officer’s inquiry, which the accused man’s flight frustrated, was legitimate.

Controlled substance could either help us or break us. Drugs were primarily made to heal people and alleviate the pain that we feel but when abuse, drugs can cause great danger to one’s life. A New York Drug Lawyer can help you or people close to you win your battle against drug-related legal actions. When drug dependence resulted to crime, contact a New York Criminal Attorney from Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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