Around 1985, a detective in plain-clothes and an unmarked car was working a known drug area in Queens when he and his partner saw a transaction that they believed was drug related. A New York Drug Crime Lawyer said they saw one man approach another and hand him money. The other man produced a three by five inch brown envelope and the first man took it in exchange for the money. The officers believed that it was a drug transaction based on the fact that the bags were the size, shape, and description of units called, “three dollar bags” that are often used for drug crimes.
The two officers got out of their car and approached the two men. They identified themselves as police and the two men took flight. A short foot chase ensued in which the defendant threw his hat off and then threw something black into some bushes. A New York Drug Possession Lawyer said one officer retrieved the two items, at which time he discovered that the black item was a handgun. The defendant stopped running and was taken into custody and placed under arrest. Upon checking the operability of the weapon, it was discovered that it was a fully loaded nine-millimeter pistol that was also functional.
The defendant was convicted of drug crime and criminal possession of a weapon. He promptly filed an appeal. His claim is that the officer’s initial stop was investigatory. As such, the officers would have to show reasonable suspicion that a crime is, had, or was about to be committed and that the defendant was one of them. A Nassau County Drug Possession Lawyer said that he contends that the mere passing of an envelope from one person to another on a public street was no implication of a criminal enterprise. He also stated that when he ran, they had no right to chase him because he was only exercising his constitutional right to leave without answering questions.
The justices contend that the officers were well within their rights because they observed conduct that they were able to articulate to the court, based on their experience, and training as police officers, led them to believe that a crime had been committed and that the defendant was involved in a substantial manner. The justices felt that any ordinary police officer, given the same facts and circumstances would come to the same conclusion. Therefore, the stop was justified.
The defendant claimed that the level of police intrusion was too severe for the circumstances. A Queens Drug Possession Lawyer said that he should have the right to hand some money to an acquaintance on the side of the road without being intruded upon by police officers. The justices disagreed again. At the point where a person recognizes a police officer as a law enforcement officer, and then takes flight upon seeing him, he has behaved in a manner that is not within the norm of society. The level of police intrusion was appropriate given the circumstances. One of the deciding factors in the voracity of the encounter was that the incident occurred in a known drug area. The encounter would have been more difficult to justify to the court if the incident had occurred in a business area in the middle of the day. At that point, the exchange of a manila envelope for cash would not logically have ben assumable as a drug transaction. It could be business papers. The location of the incident and the time of day create a different picture of what was transpiring between the two men. There is no doubt that when the officers first exited the car, they had an intention to find out more information. When the defendant took flight upon their approach gives objective reason to support the intrusion of privacy that was necessary by the police officers.
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