Monday, September 11, 2006

AD4: "right to be left alone" alive and well in New York

People v Lobley, 2006 NY Slip Op 05444 [available here]

Police responded to a citizen complaint of drug dealing at a certain address in Buffalo, and saw defendant hanging out with a group of men on the stoop. One of the officers "made eye contact with defendant and asked him to 'stop', [and] defendant ran into the downstairs apartment of the residence." (People v Lobley, 2006 NY Slip Op 05444.) The police chased defendant and, after being let into the apartment by an unidentified woman, observed defendant with a gun inside the apartment. Not done yet, "Defendant threw the gun into the air and ran through the backyard." (Id. at __.) He was caught and arrested later. The trial court refused to suppress the gun, and the Fourth Department reversed. The People on appeal conceded that the police did not have the requisite "reasonable suspicion" to justify the initial chase of the defendant, but instead argued that "the illegal pursuit ended when the police reached the locked door and that, when the door was opened, the observation of the police of defendant holding a gun provided probable cause for his arrest." (Id. at __.) The AD4 rejected this bit of constructive legal time travel. After first noting that flight alone "or even in conjunction with equivocal circumstances" is insufficient to justify pursuit, the Court held,

When the officers first observed defendant, he was imply standing next to a group of men seated on the stoop, and '[d]efendant's later conduct cannot validate an encoutner that was not justified at its inception'. Indeed, "[i]f these circumstances could combine with flight to justify pursuit, then in essence the right to inquire would be tantamount to the right to seize, and there would, in fact, be no right "to be let alone."

(Id. at __.)

It is worth noting that the New York constitution does the heavy lifting here, as the U.S. Supreme Court has arguably held the mere fact of flight sufficient to justify police pursuit. (See Illinois v Wardlow, 528 US 119 [2000].)