Published on:

Officer testified that the second car was stopped

A Queens Criminal Lawyer said that, on the evening of September 24, 1971, New York City Officers Santiago and Braga were assigned to a taxi and truck surveillance unit. At about 8:00 p.m., they stopped a 1963 or 1965 blue Buick Riviera with Queens County license plates on Morningside Drive and 122nd Street. Two black men were in the car. Following a check of the license and registration, the car was permitted to proceed. At about 10:00 p.m., the officers saw a 1963 or 1965 blue Buick Riviera approaching the Triborough Bridge. This car, which appeared to the officers to be identical to the first car, had Brooklyn license plates and three black male occupants. As a result of seeing two apparently identical cars within two hours with different plates, the officers stopped the second car. The criminal occupants exited from the vehicle. Upon examining the driver’s license and registration, the officers ascertained that the car did not belong to him. Hence, the Officer proceeded to check the VIN plate on the hinge of the driver’s front door. While he was in a crouched position searching for the VIN plate, the other Officer observed the back seat passenger approach the open door and reach over his partner’s shoulder into the car. He believing that there might be a gun in the car, grabbed the man and shined his flash-light inside the car. An open manila envelope containing a visible white powder was resting on the console. Santiago testified that he had made about 80 prior arrests involving cocaine and heroin and, based on his experience, he believed the white powder to be cocaine. All three occupants of the car, including the defendant, were arrested, and a further search revealed another identical envelope, containing white powder, between the driver’s seat and the console.

A Queens Criminal Gun Crime Lawyer said that, defendant, as well as the other occupants of the car, were subsequently indicted for criminal possession of a dangerous drug in the fourth degree. After a hearing on defendant’s suppression motion, the court, apparently assuming that the officers had an unqualified right to stop the automobile, found the officer’s testimony credible and concluded that there were reasonable grounds to look inside the automobile prior to the discovery of the drugs. After a jury trial, defendant was convicted of the crime charged in the indictment. The Appellate Division affirmed the judgment of conviction.

The issue in this case is whether a police officer’s suspicion of criminal activity justifies stopping a motor vehicle for an investigative check.

Relying on the rationale of a previous case, defendant argues that the action of the police officer in stopping the automobile in which he was a passenger ‘was unjustified in its inception and violated (his) Fourth Amendment rights.’ In one case the court examined the limitations upon the power of the police to stop a motor vehicle on the public highway. The issue before the court was whether the police may stop an automobile solely because of unusual appearance, to examine the motorist’s license and registration, or to inspect the vehicle for possible equipment violations.

We held that a motor vehicle on a public highway may be stopped only where the officer has specific cause or reasonable suspicion of a violation of law or in accordance with non-arbitrary, nondiscriminatory, uniform procedures, such as at roadblocks, checkpoints and weighing stations. We specifically prohibited stops that are ‘the product of mere whim, caprice or idle curiosity.’ As to permissible stops for specific cause or reasonable suspicion, we said it was ‘enough if the stop is based upon ‘specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion’.

We believe that the action of the police in stopping the motor vehicle in which the criminal defendant was a passenger was permissible. Officer testified that the second car was stopped solely because it appeared to be the identical car he had seen earlier that evening with different license plates. Thus, the police stopped the car because of what they observed. The officer’s suspicion that the vehicle was stolen or that it had been involved in other criminal activity justified the stop for an investigative check of the operator’s license and registration. This was not a routine traffic stop, nor was it based on the sort of random and arbitrary stop that Ingle was designed to prohibit. Under these circumstances, it was reasonable for the police to believe that the driver and occupants of the car were involved in some criminal activity which made investigation appropriate. The State’s interest in crime detecti supports a stop predicated on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Hence, this stop was permissible and the evidence obtained as a result of the stop was properly admitted at the trial.

One other issue remains. Defendant argues that the trial court’s refusal to grant him an adjournment to secure the presence of a vital witness violated his constitutional right to compulsory process and constituted an abuse of discretion as a matter of law. A granting of an adjournment for any purpose is a matter of discretion for the trial court. A review of the facts and circumstances of this case leads to the conclusion that the trial court did not abuse its discretion, as a matter of law, in refusing to grant defendant a fourth adjournment.

The relevant facts can be briefly stated. The prosecution concluded its case on August 27, 1973. Two potential witnesses who had been arrested with the defendant were subpoenaed by the defense for appearance on the same date, but failed to appear in court. The Trial Justice granted the defendant a 24-hour adjournment in order to bring his two witnesses to court. That evening, one of the potential witnesses, was contacted by members of defendant’s family and assured them that he would appear in court the following morning. Nevertheless, the witness failed to appear and the court adjourned the trial a second time, directing that material witness orders be served on the missing witnesses. That same evening the witness Knowles was arrested and detained. Due to a misunderstanding as to the validity of the material witness order, the police released the witness. The following morning the court was informed of what had occurred and adjourned the trial for a third time to give the defendant another, but brief, opportunity to bring in the witness. Later that afternoon, when the defendant failed to produce the witness, the court denied a request for a fourth adjournment. Under these circumstances, it cannot be said, as a matter of law, that the court abused its limited discretion. There is also some doubt as to the needfulness of the potential witnesses’ testimony since the defendant’s attorney informed the court that he did not have the ‘foggiest idea’ of whether the testimony would help or hurt the defendant. We believe that, under these circumstances, the criminal defendant should not be allowed to manipulate the Sixth Amendment to avoid due process of law.

Only a few words need be said in reference to the dissent. It did not hold that all requests for an adjournment are to be treated alike, without due regard for the surrounding factual circumstances. The three-point test to which the dissent alludes was eschewed in favor of a less mechanical and rigid rule. Although it requires that a trial court be duly receptive to a request for a ‘short adjournment’ and defendant here received that much and more, the dissent would hold that a trial could not proceed if, after defendant absconds the jurisdiction, he complains about the loss of witnesses. It hardly fits this case like a glove; much less does it lace a straitjacket over a responsible exercise of discretion.

Accordingly, the court held that the order of the Appellate Division should be affirmed.

Are you facing a criminal case, seek the help of a Queens Criminal Attorney and Queens Possession of a Weapon Attorney at Stephen Bilkis and Associates. Call us,

Contact Information