Improper Nassau County Police Search results in Suppression of Grenades and a Handgun

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The Appellate Division Second Department overturns the Order of the Nassau County Supreme Court (J. Carter) denying the Defendant’s request to suppress evidence and statements. The arrest of the Defendant occurs in Nassau County, Woodmere after the Police receive a call in response to a silent alarm tripped at the Defendant’s parents house, where Defendant also lived. The Police approach the Defendant and asked questions. Police observed that the Defendant was unable to produce a photograph identification and was “acting shifty, very jittery.” After further conversation, Police told the Defendant that they needed to open the door and make sure everyone was okay. Unsuccessfully, the Defendant tried to prevent the police from doing so. The Police observed two hand grenades and a handgun. Is the search legitimate?

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated” (US Const Amend IV; see NY Const, art I, §12). “[W]hen it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the home is first among equals. At the Amendment’s very core’ stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion'” (Florida v. Jardines, _____ US_____, _____, 133 S Ct 1409, 1414, quoting Silverman v. United States, 365 US 505, 511; see United States v. Allen, 813 F3d 76, 77 [2d Cir]). ” [S]ubject only to carefully drawn and narrow exceptions, a warrantless search of an individual’s home is per se unreasonable and hence unconstitutional'” (People v. Jenkins, 24 NY3d 62, 64, quoting People v. Knapp, 52 NY2d 689, 694). One of those exceptions is the “emergency doctrine” (People v. Dallas, 8 NY3d 890, 891). Under that doctrine, police officers “may enter a home without a warrant to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant or to protect an occupant from imminent injury” (Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 US 398, 403; see Michigan v. Fisher, 558 US 45, 48; People v. Mitchell, 39 NY2d 173, 177).

In the evaluation of whether a warrantless entry was justified under the “emergency doctrine,” the evidence must establish as a threshold matter that the police had “an objectively reasonable basis for believing that a person within [the house] is in need of immediate aid” (Michigan v. Fisher, 558 US at 47 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 US at 403; People v. Rodriguez, 77 AD3d 280, 287). Under the Fourth Amendment, the officers’ subjective belief is irrelevant: “[a]n action is reasonable’ under the Fourth Amendment, regardless of the individual officer’s state of mind, as long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify [the] action'” (Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 US at 404, quoting Scott v. United States, 436 US 128, 138; see People v. Scott, 133 AD3d 794, 797; People v. Desmarat, 38 AD3d 913, 915).

The Police were incorrect in their assertions. Although the Police were correct in their assumption, that there was something wrong with the situation/the defendant, the Police cannot assert an emergency where there is none:

When the police have an objectively reasonable ground for believing that there is an emergency, a warrantless entry permitted under the emergency doctrine is not retroactively rendered impermissible because there was, in fact, no emergency (see Michigan v. Fisher, 558 US at 49). So, too, an impermissible entry is not rendered retroactively permissible when the police find evidence of criminality inside (see e.g. People v. Mormon, 100 AD3d at 782-783). Were the law otherwise, seizures themselves, regardless of the circumstances leading up to them, would be all that mattered. In that event, the Fourth Amendment would no longer protect “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” (US Const Amend IV).

The evidence at the suppression hearing did not establish that the Police had an “objectively reasonable belief that entry was needed to render emergency assistance to an injured occupant…” and the police knew, as they testified, that these silent alarms were usually false alarms. Notably, “Neither of the police officers testified that he had any inkling that there were guns and other weaponry in the house. Their testimony was about their concern for the possible safety of anyone who might be in the house.” P. 4.  While the Police did not have to walk away from the situation, the Court admonishes the police for not doing more an investigation before plodding forward into the home.

The Court holds that “the police officer’s entry into the house was not supported by objective facts giving rise to a reasonable belief that someone in the house required emergency assistance. Accordingly, the physical evidence recovered inside the house, as well as the statements that the defendant made to police officers after the unlawful entry, must be suppressed” P. 5-6.

The Case is People v. Ringel, 40/13, NYLJ 1202776020235, at *1 (App. Div., 2nd, Decided December 28, 2016) – Suppression of Handgun and Grenades – Possession of a Weapon/Criminal Charges? Call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris: 631-450-2515.

 

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