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Defendant Claims Illegal Search


Police officers who work drug related crimes require specialized training to ensure that they conduct themselves appropriately while they are performing their duties. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said the nature of drug crimes is that it changes frequently. The fluidity of the laws surrounding the actions of the police and prosecutors means that occasionally, the fall behind the law in matters that relate to the arrests and prosecutions of offenders. That means that a person who has obtained a good attorney is more capable in most cases of interpreting recent case law as well as statutory law. One case that helped to define the criteria of modern drug law occurred in January of 1981.

On January 31, 1981, two detectives were in an unmarked undercover vehicle in an area where drug problems had been reported. They were using binoculars to survey the area. They observed a car at 8:15 at night pull up and park on the curb about 100 feet away from them. They watched with their binoculars for several minutes while suspected customers came up to the car and transactions took place. Specifically, what the officers observed was that another car would pull up, and a person would approach the driver of the parked vehicle. A conversation would ensue. Money would be handed to the driver, or the passenger, who was later identified as the defendant’s wife. A small tinfoil ball would be handed to the person out of the car window. A New York Sex Crimes Lawyer said the officers observed the purchaser hold the tinfoil ball to his nose and smell it before leaving. After watching two of these transactions, the officers approached the vehicle and notified the marked patrol backup unit to respond to the location.

The officers handcuffed the driver and his male companion and searched them. They located an envelope of marijuana on the driver’s person. The detectives identified themselves and placed the two male subjects in the back of the detective car handcuffed while they interviewed the additional suspects. When the marked unit arrived and the detective started to transfer the prisoners, they located a clear plastic baggie of angel dust in the driver’s coat pocket. A Nassau County Sex Crimes Lawyer said one the prisoners were properly searched and placed into the marked unit, the officers checked their back seat and discovered that there were four tinfoil balls of angel dust on the seat of the vehicle. At the precinct, the officers recovered $237 cash from the driver and his wife.

After being Mirandized, the driver stated that he had been selling angel dust and that he had sold ten dime sized balls of angel dust before the officers’ arrival. He stated that the balance of the money that the officers had located on his person was actually his rent money. In court, the detective testified that they had each been narcotics officers for more than a year. One had several years of narcotics experience. He testified that he was familiar with the mannerisms that are often associated with a drug transaction. He stated that a person who is buying angel dust will almost always take the tinfoil ball into his hands and hold it to his nose to smell it. He advised that in his experience, most legal purchases are not conducted in this manner. He further advised that although he was unable to observe what was being transferred to the people who approached the driver’s car, he could tell that it was probably angel dust because of the manner that the buyers conducted themselves. The act of smelling the item in their hands before leaving was the trademark of an angel dust purchase.

The trial court disagreed. They were concerned that the officer had conducted a seizure of the vehicle and persons based on conjecture. A Queens Sex Crimes Lawyer said the trial court advised that the officers could not reasonably determine that the transactions that they were observing had anything to do with illegal activity in that what the officers observed was a singularly innocuous act. They stated that merely observing a person approach another person in a parked car was not enough even given the additional actions to constitute probable cause. They maintain that the American freedom to be without illegal searches and seizures are so important that much more would have to be present before probable cause would exist in this type of encounter.

The court stated that the detectives would have to have seen the narcotic substance itself before making an assumption that a drug deal had been or could be in the process of transpiring. The trial court suppressed the evidence and statements made by the suspects on the grounds that the original seizure of the vehicle and persons inside the vehicle was not a legal stop. Since it was not a legal stop, the illegal seizure of the vehicle, created a case for the application of the Exclusionary Rule. The Exclusionary Rule states that any evidence that is seized as the result of an illegal search must be excluded from the court of law during the trial. It is called fruit of the poisonous tree because anything that develops like a fruit on the tree of illegality is inadmissible in court. The prosecution appealed this decision.

The Supreme Court reviewed the issues in question in this case. Specifically under review was the question of whether an experienced narcotics detective given his knowledge, training, and experience, would lead him given the particular set of circumstances in this case; to believe that a crime is, was, or was about to be committed and that the particular suspects were involved in this crime in a substantial manner. This concept is otherwise known as articulable reasonable suspicion and it was determined in the landmark case of Terry v Ohio that it was enough cause for a police officer with experience to stop a person and frisk their outer garments for weapons. However, when the detectives approached the suspects, they were not specifically searching for weapons, they were searching for and ultimately found, evidence of narcotics in the envelope with the marijuana.

Once the marijuana was discovered, there is no question about the probable cause to arrest the subjects. The problem with the search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution is that the officers were unable to observe any overt criminal activity from their vantage point. The concern of the trial court was the affront to personal liberty. If the officers were allowed to confront and search every person who stopped on the street to converse with a person in a vehicle, the courts would be opening a Pandora’s Box of civil liberty issues. While the Supreme Court agrees that rampant searches and seizures of innocent Americans is not to be permitted, they were loath to neglect the obvious. The experience of the detective is what led them to recognize a criminal behavior where the average citizen might not have noticed it. That does not mean that the court would allow indiscriminate searches and seizures of persons conversing on the street. It only means that based on the officers knowledge and ability to articulate his suspicions, the trial court erred in suppressing the evidence. The Supreme Court overruled the suppression and readmitted the evidence for trial.

Stephen Bilkis & Associates has a group of experienced Queens Criminal Lawyers. In any case that involves Constitutional guidelines, it is important to have an attorney review your case. They have convenient offices throughout New York and the Metropolitan area. A Queens Drug lawyer is the best choice for your defense.

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