Tagged: privacy

NY Court of Appeals Addresses the Scope of the Exigent Circumstances Doctrine

POST WRITTEN BY: Prof. Peter Widulski, Assistant Director of the First Year Legal Skills Program and the Coach of International Criminal Moot Court Team at Pace Law School.

The Fourth Amendment’s protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures” requires the police to obtain a warrant prior to searching someone’s person, house, papers, or effects for evidence of a crime, subject to certain exceptions that courts have acknowledged. A major exception is that warrantless searches and seizures are constitutionally permissible when required by “exigent circumstances.” While this exception is well recognized, courts are frequently confronted with cases in which the scope of this exception is an issue.

In 2012, New York’s Second Department Appellate Division was confronted with an appeal in People v. Jenkins in which New York City police officers, while on patrol, heard gunshots coming from the rooftop of an apartment building. Upon entering the building, the officers observed a man holding a firearm who then fled into one of the apartments in the building, along with another man. When no occupant of the apartment responded to the officers’ request to open the apartment’s locked door, the officers entered after breaking down the door with a sledgehammer.

The officers’ forcible and warrantless entry into the apartment and seizure of the two men was, given the circumstances observed by the officers, justified under the exigent circumstances exception. At issue in the case was further action by the officers in seizing and searching a silver box in which they found the gun that had been fired, which they had not otherwise been able to find on either of the men or in plain view.

The Second Department, reversing the lower court’s suppression decision, held that the exigent circumstances that justified the officers’ entry into the apartment and seizure of the suspects extended as well to justify the search of the silver box.

In a unanimous opinion issued on October 16, 2014, the New York Court of Appeals reversed. The Court of Appeals noted that by the time the officers seized and searched the silver box, they had already handcuffed the men, so there was no danger that the defendant would destroy or dispose of the gun. Nor was there any urgency for further searches to protect the officers or any of the other occupants of the apartment against harm. Therefore, any search of the silver box would have required a warrant.


  • People v. Jenkins, 100 A.D.3d, 954 N.Y.S.2d 183 (App. Div. 2d Dep’t 2012), rev’d, 2014 Slip. Op. No. 148 (N.Y. Oct. 16, 2014).

Scrutinizing Verdicts

Two recent events overlap to raise a question about rendering of verdicts after trial. In Warger v. Schauers, the US Supreme Court recently heard oral argument about whether a civil plaintiff can move for a new trial based on information about something that occurred during jury deliberations that ended in a defendant’s verdict. The case raises the seemingly settled question about whether  the courts and the public and the parties can have access to information about what happens in a jury room during deliberations. The current answer is a resounding no, and, based on press and opinion, the Supreme Court does not seem likely to change that.

In Warger, the plaintiff sought to rely on information that the forewoman had stated during deliberations that her daughter had been at fault in an auto accident and that her life would have been ruined if she had been sued. Apparently, the forewoman had made no mention of this during voir dire. The plaintiff relied on this information to seek a new trial, arguing that the forewoman had been dishonest and should not have been seated on the jury. The lower courts have refused to rely on this information because it violates the total privacy given to jury deliberations in the United States (absent a third-party influence into the jury room).

In contrast  to this total prohibition against scrutiny of deliberations we have the reading, on worldwide television, of the verdict in the Oscar Pistorius trial. Not only was the verdict rendered in public; according to South African law the judge who rendered it (with the help of two appointed assessors) gave all of her reasons for the verdict, including resolution of credibility questions, the drawing or rejection of inferences, and the like.

So these two cases are a study in contrasts. Is it necessary to close our eyes to improprieties in the jury room – if indeed they occur – in order to secure the right to a traditional lay jury? Do we have to give up the judgment of lay jurors to learn the reasons why a jury resolves a case the way it does? Food for thought.

Second Circuit Releases Decision Raising Interesting Terry Stop Issue

BY: David Restrepo

The Second Circuit recently decided United States v. Freeman, which was on appeal from a conviction for gun possession.  On appeal, the defendant argued that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct the Terry stop that produced a gun in the defendant’s possession.  The Second Circuit reversed the defendant’s conviction, mainly on the ground that the police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk so that the evidence should have been suppressed.

The interesting part about the case is the court’s in-depth discussion on what constitutes reasonable suspicion.  Initially, police responded to a pair of anonymous 911 calls from the same caller.  The caller offered a description and location of the defendant, claiming that the defendant had a gun on his person.  What makes the court’s decision newsworthy is its analysis of the phone calls and their sufficiency as a basis for reasonable suspicion given that, although they were anonymous, the 911 center recorded the phone number and the caller called twice.

The Second Circuit held that the phone calls were an insufficient basis for reasonable suspicion because the information in the calls could not be corroborated.  However, the majority and dissent both discussed an issue raised by Justice Kennedy in his concurrence in Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000) – whether 911 calls are really anonymous given current police technology.  In J.L., the majority held that a mere description in 911 call is not sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion.  In his dissent in Freeman, however,  Judge Wesley disagreed, suggesting that the Supreme Court should offer “further guidance in this troubling and exceptionally important area of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.”  Whether or not the holding in Freeman is correct, Judge Wesley poses an interesting issue.  Given the speed of advancement in technology available to law enforcement, it is an issue that deserves further clarification by the Supreme Court.

Related Readings

David Restrepo, United States v. Freeman – Second Circuit, ABA Media Alerts (Nov. 7, 2013).
United States v. Freeman, No. 12-2233-cr (2d Cir. Nov. 7, 2013).

Canine Searches: Fourth Amendment Issues

A recent article addresses the complicated fourth amendment and privacy issues raised by canine searches and collects the relevant cases, law reviews, reports, ALRs, and other related articles. See Canine Assisted Investigation in the Borderlands of Privacy by Ken Strutin.