Police need to justify their actions. More than just saying hello or “peeking” into the car window, New York police officers must justify a criminal inquiry or a search. Often there are allegations that New York Police might target one individual over another. Justifications for police action, and sometimes police shootings, in New York have been as tenuous as suggestions that there was something in the suspect’s waistband.
This case is no different. Police had recovered some marijuana in a field and, the next day, the Police went back to the same field to investigate. Here, the defendant was one of several men in the field. When police approached they saw the defendant “quickly grab” near his waist/waistband. This rather innocuous behavior was the justification that police gave to search the defendant in People v. Elliot, an appeal from the defendant’s conviction for possession of, inter alia, a handgun.
The New York Law Journal reported that “[t]he movements of a man ‘grabbing’ at his waistline and bending down toward the floor while in a vehicle did not create the requisite suspicion to justify his arrest by a Rochester police officer, an appeals court ruled.” Indeed, the Appellate Court Court observed that
The officers returned to that area the next day along with a police sergeant, and they observed a group of five or six men, who dispersed upon their approach. The sergeant saw defendant “quickly grab near his waistband area” and enter the front passenger seat of a nearby sport utility vehicle, where the sergeant saw defendant bend over, “as if [defendant] was putting something underneath the seat.” The sergeant left his patrol car and approached defendant with his service weapon drawn, demanding to see defendant’s hands.
One should note that this behavior was the predicate for officers to withdraw their weapons from their holsters and approach behavior completely consistent with innocence. Playing it safe or be cautious does not justify the approach with weapons drawn. The defendant asserts that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by such a seizure and the subsequent search that ensues. The Court states that…
We agree with defendant that the arresting sergeant lacked the requisite reasonable suspicion. There is no evidence in the record that the sergeant was informed of the recovery of marihuana in the area the day before defendant’s arrest, and defendant’s actions in merely “grabbing” at his waistline and bending down to the floor of the vehicle, without more, were insufficient to provide the sergeant with the requisite suspicion that defendant committed a crime, and to justify defendant’s gunpoint detention (see Mobley, 120 AD3d at 918; People v Cady, 103 AD3d 1155, 1156; Riddick, 70 AD3d at 1422-1423; People v Guzman, 153 AD2d 320, 323). Inasmuch as the forcible detention of defendant was unlawful, the handgun and other physical evidence seized by the police, and the statements made by defendant to the police following the unlawful seizure, should have been suppressed.
This is yet another case that highlights the importance of vehemently fighting the criminal charges and hiring an experienced defense attorney. Should you need a Florida licensed Criminal Defense Attorney or Long Island Criminal Defense Attorney, call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris.