Saturday, January 3, 2009

Lower Courts Erroneously Denied Motions for Suppression of Evidence in Three Cases

In three separate cases decided on December 31. 2008, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, held that the lower courts erred in denying motions for suppression of evidence.

In People v Ervin (2008 NY Slip Op 10281 [4th Dept 12/31/08], the Court applied Chapple-Bethea and held that the suppression court
erred in refusing to suppress a statement made by defendant in the police vehicle while en route to the police station and in refusing to suppress his written statement made at the police station after he had waived his Miranda rights. The evidence presented at the suppression hearing establishes that defendant was in custody in the police vehicle when the arresting officer asked him questions about his life and his church (see People v Paulman, 5 NY3d 122, 129; People v Yukl, 25 NY2d 585, 589, cert denied 400 US 851),and the People failed to establish that the arresting officer's questions did not constitute interrogation or its functional equivalent (see Rhode Island v Innis, 446 US 291, 301; People v Ferro, 63 NY2d [*2]316, 321, cert denied 472 US 1007). Although defendant waived his Miranda rights prior to questioning at the police station by a different police officer, the arresting officer was present throughout that questioning and again asked defendant about his life and his church. We conclude that there was not 'such a definite, pronounced break in the interrogation that the defendant may be said to have returned, in effect, to the status of one who is not under the influence of questioning'(People v Chapple, 38 NY2d 112, 115; see People v Bethea, 67 NY2d 364, 366; cf. Paulman, 5 NY3d at 131).

In People v Stock (2008 NY Slip Op 10300 [4th Dept 12/31/08]), the Court held that the police lacked the requisite reasonable suspicion to stop defendant's vehicle, where
[a]ccording to the suppression hearing testimony of the police officer who stopped the vehicle driven by defendant, he observed defendant shortly after midnight as she was leaving the parking lot of a group home and was pulling onto a roadway. The officer testified that he believed that defendant's presence at that location was suspicious because the group home had been closed for renovations, the parking lot was empty, and he had not observed vehicles in that parking lot on previous night patrols. After following defendant's vehicle for a short distance, the officer pulled the vehicle over, whereupon he noticed that defendant smelled of alcoholic beverages, was slurring her speech, and had glassy eyes. The officer testified, however, that he did not observe defendant driving erratically or violating any traffic laws before stopping her vehicle.

The Court held that the People's contention that the stop was justified because defendant was leaving the parking lot of a closed group home shortly after midnight lacks merit.
That fact alone, which is in effect no more than a '[m]ere hunch' or gut reaction,' ' is insufficient to create the requisite reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot (citations omitted).

Further, the Court held that since "our determination results in the suppression of all evidence supporting the crimes charged, the indictment must be dismissed (citation omitted)."

Finally, in People v Christianson (2008 NY Slip Op 10269 [4th Dept 12/31/08]), the Court held that a warrantless entry and search of defendant's home could not be justified under the emergency doctrine, where
at the time the Sheriff's Deputy arrived at defendant's home, the fire officials had extinguished the blaze, ventilated the home, and determined the origin of the fire. Moreover, the Fire Chief testified at the suppression hearing that he called for the Sheriff's Deputy to investigate other safety concerns, such as the locked interior door and boarded-up windows. Those concerns, however, did not pose an immediate threat to defendant and thus do not fall within the purview of the emergency exception to the warrant requirement (citations omitted).

Further, the Court held that the People did not meet their heavy burden of establishing that a suspect voluntarily consented to a search, where the Sheriff's Deputy testified at the suppression hearing that defendant did not consent to his entrance.
Although the People contend that defendant never demanded that the Sheriff's Deputy leave, we conclude under the circumstances of this case that, without more, the failure to demand that the Sheriff's Deputy leave did not amount to "a true act of the will[ or] an unequivocal product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice" (People v Gonzalez<, 39 NY2d 122, 128). We therefore conclude that the physical evidence was illegally seized and must be suppressed, and "[d]efendant's statements must also be suppressed as fruit of the poisonous tree" (citation omitted).