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  • Cory Morris

Search of the Defendants' Jacket after his Arrest required Suppression Of Evidence


The Court reviewed the suppression hearing which established that Officer William Svenstrup ("Svenstrup") and his partner responded to a call of a suspicious person. It was alleged that the perpetrator, our Defendant, was trying to steal from women's purses. The perpetrator placed his hands inside the jacket, the officers demanded that he remove his hands, a stuggle ensued and the Defendant was subdued. The jacket fell off the Defendant in the struggle and was on the police automobile after the Defendant was placed in handcuffs. The officers searched teh jacket pockets and found drugs and a box cutter. Upon this finding, they returned the jacket to the Defendant.

Rule/Guideline

"[A]ll warrantless searches presumptively are unreasonable per se," and, "[w]here a warrant has not been obtained, it is the People who have the burden of overcoming" this presumption of unreasonableness (People v. Hodge, 44 NY2d 553, 557 [1978]). As the Court of Appeals recently reiterated in Jimenez (22 NY3d at 717), the People must satisfy two separate requirements to justify a warrantless search of a container incident to arrest. "The first imposes spatial and temporal limitations to ensure that the search is not significantly divorced in time or place from the arrest" (Jimenez, 22 NY3d at 721 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Gokey, 60 NY2d at 312 [item searched must be within the immediate control or grabbable area of the suspect]). The second requires the People to demonstrate the presence of exigent circumstances (Jimenez, 22 NY3d at 722). The Court of Appeals has recognized two interests underlying the exigency requirement: the safety of the public and the arresting officer, and the protection of evidence from destruction or concealment (id. at 722).

The Court uses the Jiminez case as a guideline. The arrest became key in Jiminez and here as to whether the property, obviously seperated from the Defendant after his or her arrest, was within the 'grabbable' area at the time of the search. Here, Defendant was sitting handcuffed inside a police car while the jacket lie on the trunk of the automobile. The Court holds that "the jacket had been reduced to the exclusive control of the police and there was no reasonable possibility that defendant could have reached it (see People v. Thompson, 118 AD3d 922, 923 [2d Dept 2014] [search of backpack not justified where the defendant was secured and the backpack was not within his immediate control]; People v. Diaz, 107 AD3d 401 [1st Dept 2013], lv dismissed 22 NY3d 996 [2013] [search of backpack unlawful because the defendant was handcuffed at the time of the search and it was no longer in his control]; People v. Julio, 245 AD2d 158 [1st Dept 1997], lv denied 91 NY2d 942 [1998] [search of bag unlawful where it was in the exclusive control of the police and the defendant was unable to reach it because he was handcuffed and surrounded by police officers).

Further, the Court finds that the people fail to establish exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless search. The Dissent argues otherwise, discussing the potential danger that necessitated such a search to which the majority responds "The fact that defendant was handcuffed in the police car and multiple officers were at the scene is minimized by the dissenting Justice who would uphold the search even though defendant had been subdued and no longer had access to the jacket."

Conclusion: "We conclude that, at the time of the search, the jacket was not within defendant's grabbable area, and there were no exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless search of the jacket incident to arrest (see People v. Jimenez, 22 NY3d 717 [2014]; People v. Gokey, 60 NY2d 309 [1983]). The dissent's contention that our decision will endanger the police and public is unsupported by the record, and cannot be reconciled with controlling precedent."

The case is The People v. Morales, 91809, NYLJ 1202717844124, at 1 (App. Div., 1st, Decided February 10, 2015)


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