Law School Case Brief
People v. Martinez - 80 N.Y.2d 444, 591 N.Y.S.2d 823, 606 N.E.2d 951 (1992)
The objective evidence necessary to support a stop and seizure short of an arrest is reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion represents that quantum of knowledge sufficient to induce an ordinarily prudent and cautious person under the circumstances to believe criminal activity is at hand.
As police Officer Radzinsky and his partner were patrolling in a high-crime area in a marked police car, they saw defendant Steven Martinez reach up and remove a metal Hide-a-Key box from the steel grate of a store window. Officer Radzinsky was aware that the area was known for its drug activity, and he knew from his experience and training that Hide-a-Key boxes were sometimes used by drug dealers to "stash" drugs. After observing defendant, the officers stopped and got out of their car. They were dressed in plain clothes, but Officer Radzinsky had his identifying badge prominently displayed and defendant knew him to be a police officer through prior contact. As the officers' approached, defendant turned and ran a few steps into a nearby grocery store. The officers chased defendant into the store, saw him pass off the box to co-defendant Palmer, and saw Palmer go to the rear of the store and throw the box to the floor. Officer Radzinsky retrieved the box and found it contained 17 vials of what later proved to be crack cocaine. Defendant was convicted in New York state court of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the fifth degree. The appellate division affirmed the conviction. Defendant appealed, contending that the police had no justifiable basis to pursue him into the grocery store, that he abandoned the box as a direct result of illegal police conduct, and that, consequently, the recovered crack should have been suppressed at trial.
Did the police officers have justifiable basis to pursue defendant into the store?
The Court of Appeals of New York affirmed defendant's conviction. The court held that police officers could forcibly stop or pursue an individual if they had information which, although not yielding the probable cause necessary to justify an arrest, provided them with a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been, was being, or was about to be committed. In the case at bar, police officers had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to justify their pursuit of defendant where there was evidence that defendant was seen standing at night in an area known for an excessive amount of drug activity, he was removing a device known to the officers to be used for hiding drug stashes from the steel grate of a store window, and he fled immediately upon observing the approaching police. Although defendant's flight when the officers approached could not, in and of itself, create a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, defendant's removal of the drug stash device in a narcotics-prone neighborhood, when coupled with defendant's immediate flight upon the officers' approach, established the necessary reasonable suspicion to justify the pursuit.
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