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People v. Blasich - 73 N.Y.2d 673, 543 N.Y.S.2d 40, 541 N.E.2d 40 (1989)

Rule:

Under New York law, when the occupant of an automobile is arrested, the very circumstances that supply probable cause for the arrest may also give the police probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband, evidence of the crime, a weapon or some means of escape. If so, a warrantless search of the vehicle is authorized, not as a search incident to arrest, but rather as a search falling within the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.

Facts:

At approximately 7:00 p.m. on April 18, 1985, Port Authority Police Officer Curtis King, who was assigned to Kennedy Airport, responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle in parking lot number two at the airport. Officer King observed the described vehicle, a brown Plymouth with three male occupants, cruising slowly up an aisle. Officer King stopped the vehicle, asked the driver—defendant Harry Blasich—a few questions, checked the license and registration and, being satisfied that no crime had been committed, allowed defendant and his two companions to proceed. Officer King took note of the vehicle's license number and continued his patrol. At about 7:45 p.m. that same evening, Officer King heard a radio report that a car had left parking lot number two without paying. He contacted the officer who had been dispatched to the scene and learned that the license plate of the offending vehicle matched that of the car he had stopped earlier. Officer King remembered that defendant had mentioned that he intended to buy gas at a nearby Amoco station. He drove to the station, where he was soon joined by other officers and where he spotted the car with defendant seated behind the wheel. Officer King approached the vehicle and saw on the floor of the passenger side of the front seat a number of tools commonly used to break into cars—a slim jim, a lock-punching device, a chisel and a screwdriver. On the front seat was a blue gym bag and on the floor in the rear of the passenger compartment were two parking lot cards. Officer King seized the tools and the cards. At the police station, Officer King conducted a warrantless search of the blue bag, which was found to contain cocaine and illegal weapons. Defendant was indicted for two counts of criminal possession of a weapon, possession of a controlled substance and possession of burglar's tools. At trial in New York state court, defendant filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence found in the car. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the search of the vehicle and the bag was authorized. The appellate court affirmed, noting that the failure to pay the parking fee was not a mere traffic violation which would have limited the officer's subsequent rights to search the vehicle. Defendant challenged his conviction, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence found in a car.

Issue:

Did the trial court err by denying defendant's motion to suppress the evidence found in the warrantless searches of the car and blue bag?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United State affirmed defendant's convictions as defendant's motion to suppress the fruits of the searches was properly denied. According to the Court, the justifications for a warrantless search conducted upon probable cause pursuant to the automobile exception to the warrant requirement of NY Constitution, article I, § 12 did not dissipate merely because the vehicle had been placed in the control of the police and the exception was equally applicable whether the search was conducted at the time and place where the automobile was stopped or whether, instead, the vehicle was impounded and searched after removal to the police station. Thus, in the present case where defendant, the driver of an automobile, was taken into custody at a gas station and then transported to the police station where he was formally arrested, the warrantless search of defendant's vehicle and the bag found therein, conducted upon probable cause, was authorized pursuant to the automobile exception to the warrant requirement of NY Constitution, article I, § 12, notwithstanding that the search was conducted after defendant was taken to the police station and the vehicle was impounded. Here, the Court held that where the search was reasonably close in time and place to the point of arrest, there was no requirement that the police further delay the search to obtain a warrant.

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