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NY Court of Appeals Vacates Plea on Grounds that Motion for Suppression Hearing Was Improperly Denied

Gavel2At issue in People v Bryant, 2007 NY Slip Op 03791, was whether the Appellate Division properly upheld the trial court 's denial of defendant's motion for a Mapp/Dunaway hearing.  The trial court determined that "conclusory" allegations contained in the defendant's affidavit supporting the motion were failed to create a factual issue sufficient to warrant a hearing.

The People had previously advised the defendant during the course of discovery that a witness had picked out his photo, but refused to provide the identity of the informant.  As a result, the defendant's affidavit simply alleged that he'd been arrested without a warrant and interrogated for 6 hours.  He denied acting as a principal or accomplice in the stabbing that formed the basis of the charges against him and further stated that:

(T)he only information known to the police at the time of his arrest was that (1) a stabbing had occurred on May 30, 2003 in the area of 132nd Street and 7th Avenue and (2) his photograph had been picked out by an unknown witness whose source of information - whether the alleged witness actually observed the crime, or only relied on hearsay - was uncertain...

Defendant argued that "none of the People's written or oral communications have set forth facts constituting probable cause justifying his seizure" and that he was "therefore unable to proffer factual allegations as to the lack of probable cause."

In reaching its decision, the Court first set forth the standard for suppression motions required by CPL 710.60(1):

"[H]earings are not automatic or generally available for the asking by boilerplate allegations" (People v Mendoza, 82 NY2d 415, 422 [1993]). The sufficiency of the factual allegations should be (1) evaluated by the face of the pleadings, (2) assessed in conjunction with the context of the motion and (3) evaluated by defendant's access to information (id. at 426).

The Court then concluded, quite correctly, in my opinion, that it was illogical to penalize the defendant for failing to allege the facts disputing his arrest when his lack of knowledge regarding the underlying facts was the direct result of the People's refusal to provide him with that information:

Here, defendant also lacked critical information only the People could provide — i.e., the factual predicate for his arrest. Because defendant lacked this information, he was not in a position to allege facts disputing the basis for his arrest.

The People could not both refuse to disclose the informant's identity, or at least some facts showing a basis for the informant's knowledge the police relied upon to establish probable cause for the arrest, and insist that defendant's averments in his pleadings were insufficient to obtain a Mapp/Dunaway hearing [FN2]. Without more information, defendant could do little more than dispute the circumstances surrounding his arrest. Like the defendant in Hightower, defendant's lack of access to information precluded more specific factual allegations and created factual disputes, the resolution of which required a hearing.

I encountered this problem all the time as a public defender.  You and your client would have absolutely no information regarding the basis for the arrest and would be denied a probable cause hearing because you had alleged no information regarding the basis for the arrest.  Seems a bit circular, eh? 

I'm glad this has been put to a rest--at least on paper.  One wonders if it will truly make a difference in practice, however. 

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