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Court Discusses Plain View Doctrine

This involves a drug crime case where the court concluded that the warrantless seizure of the package by the police officers to the defendant was proper.

The police obtained a search warrant for 2130 East Tremont Avenue, Apartment 7E, in Bronx County in conjunction with a long-term narcotics investigation, during which undercover officers had purchased large amounts of cocaine from occupants of the subject apartment on several prior occasions. The police searched the apartment and recovered a large amount of currency, narcotics, a gun and several forms of drug paraphernalia from inside the apartment. Police officers stationed outside the building recovered drugs wrapped in a paper towel, which had been thrown out of a window by one of the occupants of the apartment. A New York Criminal Lawyer said that after hearing a knock on the door, the police opened the door and defendant entered the apartment. Defendant raised his hands in the air, and a brown paper package fell out from underneath defendant’s jacket to the floor. Upon opening the bag, police officers found a baggie containing half a kilo of cocaine and defendant was arrested for cocaine possession.

Defendant moved pre-trial to suppress the physical evidence recovered by the police.

The issue to determined was whether the incriminating nature of this package was “immediately apparent” so as to permit its warrantless seizure under the plain view doctrine.

The court ruled the package is immediately apparent warranting its warrantless seizure. A Bronx Criminal Lawyer said under the plain view doctrine, if the sight of an object gives the police probable cause to believe that it is the instrumentality of a crime, the object may be seized without a warrant if three conditions are met: (1) the police are lawfully in a position from which the object is viewed; (2) the police have lawful access to the object; and (3) the object’s incriminating nature is immediately apparent.

The court stated that when defendant of his own volition sought entry into an apartment being utilized in the narcotics trade, and dropped a suspicious package after the police detained him there, it was hardly a hunch for the police to associate the package with the illicit drug activity in the apartment.

The suspicions of the police ripened into probable cause by the outward appearance of the package (People v Aqudelo, supra; cf., Arizona v Hicks, supra [warrantless seizure of stereo equipment improper where police did not have probable cause to believe it was contraband until further search revealed serial number]; People v Grovner, 172 AD2d 1035 [small manila envelope not immediately incriminating]).[2] The police officer testified that in his experience as a narcotics officer, involving hundreds of narcotics cases, he had seen narcotics packaged in such bags with the same tape wrapping. Based on his experience, it was “immediately apparent” to the officer that the package contained narcotics. [probative value of documents was immediately clear to observing officer who had extensive training and experience in investigation of organized crime]). A Bronx Criminal Lawyer said that the officer did not specify exactly how many times he had previously seen such packaging does not alter this conclusion, since the record stands uncontradicted that he immediately recognized it as drug packaging from his own personal experience (compare, Robbins v California, supra, at 428 [vague, “hearsay” testimony that drugs are normally wrapped in “blocks” did not establish that marijuana is ordinarily packaged this way]). Thus, since “the distinctive character of the [package] itself spoke volumes as to its contents—particularly to the trained eye of the officer”, police officer had probable cause to associate the property with criminal activity and its warrantless seizure was proper.

The Court concluded that the forcible detention was justified by the legitimate safety concerns of the police officers executing the warrant. People v Fripp (85 AD2d 547, affd 58 NY2d 907), cited by defendant, is distinguishable since there the police physically threw the defendant against the wall in the hallway, before it was known whether he intended to enter an apartment on that floor where a search warrant was being executed.

At the suppression hearing, defendant did not contest that the police officer had probable cause to believe the package contained narcotics, and the hearing court expressly found that such probable cause existed.

Our New York Drug Crime Attorney from Stephen Bilkis and Associates are of proven competence to handle similar cases discussed above. It has offices located within New York Metropolitan area, including Corona, New York.