Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The most difficult and important part of an appellate attorney's job is identifying possible issues. An appellate record is like a puzzle that the attorney must solve to discover what issues are present and worth raising. An issue not raised is not likely to result in reversal. That should be enough incentive to scour the record for possibly meritorious issues. If not, the possibility that the court may reverse a conviction on an issue which you failed to find or declined to raise, but was raised by a client in a supplemental brief, should provide motivation. People v Layou [2010 NY Slip Op 02192 4th Dept 3/23/10] is a reminder of that possibility:

As defendant contends in his pro se supplemental brief, suppression was warranted because the police lacked reasonable suspicion to justify the initial seizure of his vehicle. Here, a police officer effectively seized defendant's vehicle when he pulled into the parking lot behind defendant's vehicle in such a manner as to prevent defendant from driving away (citations omitted). Defendant's presence in a vehicle at 3:40 a.m. in a parking lot located in the general vicinity of a burglary that the police were investigating did not provide the police with reasonable suspicion that defendant had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime (see People v May, 81 NY2d 725, 727-728). It is well settled that "innocuous behavior alone will not generate a founded or reasonable suspicion that a crime is at hand" (People v De Bour, 40 NY2d 210, 216). In this case, the arresting officer did not observe any conduct indicative of criminal activity at the time he seized the vehicle, the complainant who had reported the burglary did not mention that the burglars fled in a vehicle, and the officer had no other information tending to connect defendant or the occupant of his vehicle with the reported burglary (citations omitted). Thus, even if there had been a sufficient chain of custody, we nevertheless conclude that the judgment must be reversed . . . inasmuch as the police acted without the requisite reasonable suspicion to justify the initial seizure of defendant's vehicle.

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