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People v. Jimenez - 2014 NY Slip Op 1262, 22 N.Y.3d 717, 985 N.Y.S.2d 456, 8 N.E.3d 831

Rule:

All warrantless searches presumptively are unreasonable per se, and, thus, where a warrant has not been obtained, it is the People who have the burden of overcoming this presumption of unreasonableness. Under the state constitution, to justify a warrantless search incident to arrest, the People must satisfy two separate requirements. The first imposes spatial and temporal limitations to ensure that the search is not significantly divorced in time or location from the arrest. The second, and equally important, predicate requires the People to demonstrate the presence of exigent circumstances. There are two interests underlying the exigency requirement: the safety of the public and the arresting officer; and the protection of evidence from destruction or concealment. Exigency must be affirmatively demonstrated. Accordingly, even a bag within the immediate control or "grabbable area" of a suspect at the time of his arrest may not be subjected to a search incident to arrest, unless the circumstances leading to the arrest support a reasonable belief that the suspect may gain possession of a weapon or be able to destroy evidence located in the bag.

Facts:

Defendant Josefina Jimenez was indicted for criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree (Penal Law § 265.03 [3]) and criminal trespass in the first degree (Penal Law § 140.17 [1]) after the search of her purse incident to an arrest for trespassing resulted in the discovery of a loaded handgun. Defendant moved to suppress the gun and a New York trial court granted a hearing. At the hearing, the court heard testimony from Sergeant Manzari and Officer Barnes, two of the police officers present at the time of defendant's arrest.

Just before noon on May 23, 2008, police responded to a radio run reporting a burglary in progress at 2255 Barker Avenue in the Bronx, an apartment building participating in Operation Clean Halls, a program through which police officers are authorized entry into privately owned buildings to conduct patrols. The radio run included descriptions of the suspects provided by the 911 caller, who had reported that two Latino males, between 5 feet, 9 inches and 5 feet, 11 inches, were attempting to burglarize a fifth-floor apartment. Sergeant Manzari and his partner, Officer Aldas, were the first to arrive on the scene. They began by checking the rear exterior of the building, which was boarded up due to ongoing construction, leaving no rear access. Manzari and Aldas then circled back to the front entrance, where they were soon joined by between four and six additional officers. Manzari sent a pair of officers upstairs to conduct a vertical sweep and to locate and interview the 911 caller.

At that point, Sergeant Manzari instructed two of the officers present to arrest defendant and Sanchez for trespassing. Officer Pagan approached defendant while another officer prepared to arrest Sanchez. Pagan proceeded to remove from defendant's shoulder a large purse, which—from Officer Barnes' standpoint—appeared to be heavy. Pagan then opened the bag and saw a handgun inside.

The trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress the gun, ruling that the search of defendant's purse was justified for safety reasons. The court determined that the purse was not within the police's exclusive control at the time of the search and that the superintendent's gestures suggested that defendant and Sanchez were in some way connected to the burglary. Defendant was convicted, after a jury trial, of the counts charged.

Issue:

Did the circumstances of defendant's arrest give rise to a reasonable belief that her purse contained either a weapon or destructible evidence?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court of Appeals of New York ruled that the People failed to meet their burden as to the exigency requirement because neither the sergeant nor the officer testified that he feared for his safety or for the integrity of any destructible evidence. The testimony demonstrated that defendant was cooperative and offered no resistance to the removal of the purse from her shoulder, the ensuing frisk, or the placing of handcuffs. The unremarkable fact that a woman's purse appeared heavy was insufficient, on its own, to support a reasonable belief that it contained either a weapon or destructible evidence. That the arrest occurred when police were responding to a radio run for a burglary did not translate to exigency because there was simply nothing connecting defendant or her companion to the burglary.

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