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January 30, 2010

New Decision On Search And Seizure In New York

By Michael H. Joseph

As a New York criminal defense attorney, I have defended numerous drug and weapons cases in New York (including Manhattan, Bronx and Queens) and Westchester ( White Plains, Yonkers and New Rochelle). As a New York criminal defense lawyer, defending any drug or weapons case, almost always involves search and seizure issues.

The New York Supreme Court, First Appellate Department recently pronounced a decision which continued to strengthen street encounters between the police and criminal suspects. In People v. Reyes, the Court overturned the Manhattan Criminal Court’s decision which denied a motion to suppress evidence.

The Appellate Court, held that the defendant’s motion to suppress should have been granted because the officers lacked valid grounds to forcibly detain defendant on the street and then pursued him when he fled. The Court noted that in evaluating the propriety of the police action in attempting to seize a suspected criminal, the Court must consider whether it was justified at its inception and whether it was reasonably related to the circumstances leading to the encounter.

The Courts follow a four-level test for evaluating illegal search and seizure issues. These apply when the police find illegal contraband, including weapons and drugs in a street encounter that the police initiate. Level one permits a police officer to request information from an individual and merely requires that the request be supported by an objective, credible reason, not necessarily indicative of criminality; level two-the common-law right of inquiry-permits a somewhat greater intrusion, short of a forcible seizure, and requires a founded suspicion that criminal activity is afoot; level three, authorizing an officer to forcibly stop and detain an individual, requires a reasonable suspicion that the particular individual was involved in a felony or misdemeanor.

In Reyes, the Court recognized that flight alone, even if accompanied with equivocal circumstances that would justify a police request for information, does not establish reasonable suspicion of criminality and is not sufficient to justify pursuit, although it may give rise to reasonable suspicion if combined with other specific circumstances indicating the suspect’s possible engagement in criminal activity.

Any New York Criminal Defense Attorney, who handles drug cases and weapons cases arising from street encounters in New York and Westchester, must carefully analyze whether there was reasonable suspicion that the accused had committed a misdemeanor or felony at the initial inception of the police encounter.

Michael Joseph is a criminal defense attorney with offices in New York (Manhattan) and Westchester (White Plains).

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