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Traffic Stop transformed into search because of nervous passenger was illegal; Heroin and Oxycodone


Once a traffic infraction has been committed, officers may take appropriate protective actions for their safety. You should always understand you have the right to remain silent (so long as your tell the officer you are going to exercise that right) and the right to an attorney. This case deals with the suppression of drugs found as a result of nervousness - the passenger was unusually nervous. New York State Criminal Defense starts here - if you are stopped and the police ask if you "do you mind if we look in your car... do you mind if we take a peek in your car?" Demand an attorney: Call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris (631-450-2515 | 954-998-2918).

Both the United States Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals have recognized the potentially dangerous situations police officers encounter in conducting traffic stops, and that the danger is increased by the presence of more than on occupant of the car. See Maryland v. Wilson, 519 US 408; People v. Robinson, 74 NY2d 773, 774, cert denied 493 US 966. For example, the police may request all occupants to get out of the car so they can readily observe their movements. See id. at 775; People v Diaz, 41 NY2d 876, 362 NE2d 609, 393 NYS2d 978 [1977], cert denied 434 US 939, 98 S Ct 431, 54 L Ed 2d 299 [1997]; People v Grant, 83 AD3d 862, 863, 921 NYS2d 285 [2011]; People v Willis, 66 AD3d 926, 887 NYS2d 634 [2009]. See also Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 US 106 (1977). The same interest in an officer's safety exists, regardless of whether the occupant of the stopped vehicle is a driver or a passenger. See Maryland v Wilson, 519 US 408, 413; People v. Anderson, 17 AD3d 166 (1st Dept 2005), citing People v Alvarez, 308 AD2d 185,187 (1st Dept 2003); People v Thomas, 275 AD2d 276, 278 (1st Dept 2000).

Police Officers, and sometimes reasonably so, often find reasons to order individuals out of the car, stop, frisk and, sometimes, arrest individuals for what may seem like innocuous behavior. The Court here notes that the defendant, the only African-American individual in the car, was nervous at the inception of the police encounter. The testifying detective took issue with the defendant being nervous. The Court, however, states that “ it was this detective's assessment—offered in a candid manner at the hearing—that the defendant's nervousness and desire to get out of the car led directly to the next police action, which was to cuff and remove him. This officer's experience is not sufficient to justify the action that was taken.” The Court further noted that “ Detective Rodriguez nonetheless testified that he remembered this particular defendant from August 15, 2015 moving in a furtive way that Detective Scalf did not relate, that neither officer recorded in any writing and that Detective Rodriguez himself did not convey to the grand jury.”

While it is important to keep dangerous individuals and dangerous drugs off the street, the constitution must not suffer. A search must be justified at its inception. Under the circumstances presented to the Court, it seems clear that the defendant’s constitutional rights were violated. “Before the traffic stop this passenger was not suspected of any crime, yet his moving and nervousness supposedly prompted significant concern. The detectives failed to give clear direction to the defendant to stop moving, show his hands, keep them in front of him or get out of the vehicle. The passenger's nervousness, arm movement and desire to get out of the car did not justify the sharp escalation in police action.”

The Court rejects the Law Enforcement Officer’s basis to search the Defendant. “Detective Rodriguez's testimony failed to provide a credibly reasonable and objective basis to fear for the officers' safety, considering all the circumstances, including his omission of facts in the grand jury and the arresting officer's differing recollection.” The Court grants the motion to suppress the evidence. The rationale is clearly espoused by these circumstances – the suppression is warranted to curb the police illegality that resulted in the search and arrest of someone who was guilty of no wrongdoing aside from being nervous. Obviously being pulled over with a large quantity of drugs would make most people nervous but it does not provide the requisite quantum of suspicion necessary to search an individual. As the search is illegal, the evidence is suppressed by the Court.

Should you need a criminal defense attorney or know someone charged with a crime? Call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris, (631-450-2515 | 954-998-2918) for drug possession charges or other crimes. We are here to help.

The case is People v. Brown, 2017 NY Slip Op 50783(U)(Bronx Sup. Ct. June 12, 2017)


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