Stranger in a Strange Land
Define That Term #69

Fourth Department Suppresses Gun

In People v. Long, 2006 NY Slip Op 01918, the Fourth Department considered the issue of whether a statement made by the defendant and the gun subsequently discovered as a result of the statement was properly suppressed by the trial court. 

In this case, the defendant was stopped due to an expired registration.  The officer then advised Mr. Long that the car was going to be towed and asked him to exit his vehicle.  Mr. Long was then placed him in the back of the officer's patrol car, without any handcuffs, while he was issued a ticket.  The officer later testified that Mr. Long was not free to leave at that point.  He then asked Mr. Long if there was anything  in the car that he should know about, at which point Mr. Long advised that there was a gun in the car.

The Court first considered the issue of whether the defendant was in custody when the statements were made.  The Court stated that the relevant inquiry is what a reasonable person innocent of any crime would have thought if in the defedant's position.

The Court then held the defendant was in custody when he made the statements to the officer and had not yet been Mirandized, and thus the trial  court properly suppressed the gun and statements.  The Court also concluded that:

(T)he record supports the court's determination that the question to defendant was interrogatory and designed ... to elicit the defendant's inculpatory cooperation, particularly in view of the deference afforded the court's credibility determinations. Under the circumstances, the officer should have known that the question was reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from defendant.  (Internal citations and quotations omitted.)

Not a particularly surprising decision in light of the facts set forth in the decision.  I wonder why the decision was appealed and if there were any additional facts in the record that might offer a clue in that regard.

As an aside, the ADA in this case and I tried our very first jury trials against each other back in the late 90s.  And, the defense counsel was my Business Law professor in college.  It was an entertaining class, to say the least.

Comments

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wdegraw

As I once said - it is a very fine line between good police work, and police work that leads to suppression of evidence.

First, of all - who cares what the officer thought about whether the bandit thought he was free to leave. What matters is what a reasonable person would have thought at that juncture. Would a reasonable person with an expired registration who's car was about to be towed actually think he was going to be arrested? NO.

He was in the police car, unhandcuffed, so that he could be transported off the road to a more safe location, I'd presume that just because his car was getting towed doesn't mean Smokey was going to leave him standing by the side of the road.

Plus, at that point, regardless of whether the defendant was free to leave or not and regardless of whether there was an "interrogation," the officer didn't really need to ask the defendant anything prior to the impounding and inevitable inventory search of the car. That reminds me - shouldn't inevitable discovery apply here?

Fourth Department Hayseeds: Gotta love 'em.

Nicole Black

You and your "hayseeds" references. Them's fighting words, wdegraw!

As for the substance of your comment, I wholeheartedly disagree. He was in the backseat of a cop car, with no way to get out. Unless he'd asked for a ride, and there's no evidence that he did, there was no reason for him to be there. I'm sure that Mr. Long could have called a friend to come and get him. There's no need to put someone charged with a traffic violation in the back of a cop car with the door closed.

As for inevitable discovery doctrine, that's a good point. It's unclear from the case whether the gun was actually *in* the door or simply in a pocket on the door. If it was *inside* the door then the failure to make that argument makes more sense.

If the gun was located in a pocket in the door, perhaps only glove compartments, and the interior of cars are searched as a matter of practice, and that's why the argument wasn't raised. I'm not sure what the procedures are at the RPD in that regard.

Good thought though, but Kelly's a good lawyer, so I'm sure there was a reason that that argument wasn't raised.

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