Saturday, March 16, 2013

Curtailing Police Inquiries into Weapons Inside a Vehicle

There is no denying that weapon possession are some of the most serious crimes in the Penal Code. Its also clear that police officers in the Buffalo Area should be able to protect themselves from potential danger when they stop a person who committed a crime or may be perpetrating a Buffalo New York gun crime. An interesting question, however, is when a police officer can ask  and ask a passenger or driver of a vehicle if he or she has a weapon

. A recent decision by the top court in New York, the Court of Appeals, clearly explains the rule when this question can be asked. Whether you are a Buffalo Area criminal lawyer, Assistant District Attorney or judge in a county, criminal or local court, People v. Garcia, No. 205, NYLJ 1202581900488, at *1 (Ct. of App., Decided December 18, 2012), is a key  case to read and fully understand.

The Court in, Garcia's appeal asked the judges to "determine whether a police officer may, without founded suspicion for the inquiry, ask the occupants of a lawfully stopped vehicle if they possess any weapons.." There, the police pulled over the defendants' vehicle because of a bad  headlight. In addition to Garcia, the driver, four other people were in the car. The three  passengers looked nervous, "were a little furtive," kept "looking behind," and "stiffened up." Asked for his license and registration, Garcia complied. Later , the police asked if anyone possessed a weapon at which time one of the passengers admitted to possessing a knife. After ordering everyone from the vehicle, what appeared to be a firearm (it was an air pistol) was found wedged between a seat (it was visible with a flashlight). After waiving his rights to an attorney, Garcia admitted the air gun was his pistol.
The trial court  ruled  that the police improperly searched the vehicle. The court then suppressed the gun because officers had no basis for searching the car after it was stopped. Also , the trial court ruled that the "question as to whether the occupants possessed any weapons required founded suspicion of criminality and that mere nervousness on the part of the occupants did not give rise to such suspicion."
In  finding for suppression of the air pistol, the Court of Appeals stated  that a "police officer may, as a precautionary measure and without particularized suspicion, direct the occupants of a lawfully stopped vehicle to step out of the car. (see People v. Robinson, 74 NY2d 773, 775 [1989]).
 In determining that the police cannot merely ask if a passenger or driver has a weapon, as opposed to having those individuals exit the vehicle, the Court stated
"by sanctioning, in the  interest of safety, a suspicion less inquiry into whether the occupants of a stopped vehicle have a weapon, we may open the door to less precise inquiries with potential to raise significant privacy concerns. We decline to introduce uncertainty into this area of the law when it is not necessary to do so. Whether the individual questioned is a pedestrian or an occupant of a vehicle, a police officer who asks a private citizen if he or she is in possession of a weapon must have founded suspicion that criminality is afoot."
The Garcia case is a potential tool in defense to crimes involving weapons possession in vehicles. .
To learn about Buffalo Area weapon crimes, Buffalo area gun and firearm crimes and Buffalo Area knife crimes, con tact J John Sebastian Attorney at Law.

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