The importance of this case for New York criminal defendants (and, for that matter, New York criminal defense attorneys) is quite profound. The way the case unfolds for this defendant is that she abandoned “240 glassine envelopes purportedly containing heroin” by leaving her handbag in the car. Had she simply held onto her handbag the police may not have been able to search the same and find this heroin. The heroin was seized as part of an inventory search, an exception to the requirement that a warrant be issued or there be probable cause for the search. However, “in the absence of any evidence that such inventory was conducted in accordance with established procedures, suppression was mandated.” Pp.1 (citing People v. Gomez, 13 NY 3d 6). The issue becomes whether the defendant had standing to challenge the search.
Here, as is often the case, the police approached a vehicle and saw the defendant exit the car. A witness noticed two glassine bags of heroine at this point by the floor of the rear passenger compartment. After this observation, the witness saw the defendant exit the car. The Court observed that
By exiting the vehicle and leaving the handbag behind, the defendant abandoned it, for purposes of determining whether the search thereof was permissible. A warrantless search of abandoned property does not constitute an unreasonable search and does not violate the Fourth Amendment (U.S. v. Hoey, 983 F. 2d 890, 892, citing Abel v. U.S. 362 U.S. 217, 241). In New York, where an individual abandons property, there is no search or seizure (People v. Hogya, 80 AD 2d 621 (2d Dept.), app. dism. 56 N.Y. 2d 602). One’s intent to abandon may be inferred from words, acts, other objective facts, or relevant circumstances (U.S. v. Hoey, supra, at 892, citing U.S. v. Colbert, 474 F. 2d 174, 176). The issue is not abandonment in a property right sense, but whether the individual has relinquished any reasonable expectation of privacy by leaving it (Id.)