Friday, January 19, 2007

AD4: 911 report of car alarm and "argument" does not establish "emergency" situation justifying warrantless search

People v Fravel, 2006 NY Slip Op 09725 [available here]

At about 4 a.m., police arrived at a parking lot in response to a 911 report "that a car alarm was sounding and that men were arguing next to a truck [...]." (Fravel, 2006 NY Slip Op 09725.) No car alarm was sounding, and nobody was near the truck. The police looked in the bed of the pickup truck and saw a laptop computer, a notebook, a "utility bill" and a "cloth case". (Id.) The items were removed from the truck and taken back to the police station, where numerous forged documents were found in the cloth case. (Id. at __.) The trial court refused to suppress the forged documents, instead holding that the police were responding to an "emergency situation" that justified the seizure of the items from the pickup truck without probable cause. The Fourth Department reversed, holding that "there is no indication in the record that the police officers who responded to the 911 call perceived the requisite threat to life or property. Because the People failed to meet their burden of justifying the warrantless search based on their contention that there was 'an emergency at hand', the court erred in refusing to suppress the physical evidence seized during the warrantless search of the pickup truck." (Id. at __.)