Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Appellate court dismisses drug charges

Missing arrest warrant leads to evidence suppression

By: Bennett Loudon//June 19, 2018

Appellate court dismisses drug charges

Missing arrest warrant leads to evidence suppression

By: Bennett Loudon//June 19, 2018//

Listen to this article

An appellate court has reversed a guilty plea, granted a motion to suppress the defendant’s statement and physical evidence, and dismissed the indictment in an Onondaga County drug case.

Bruce Searight, 31, pleaded guilty in September 2015 to two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. State Supreme Court Justice John J. Brunetti sentenced Searight to four years in state prison.

At a suppression hearing, the prosecution called two Syracuse police officers who testified that they stopped Searight’s car for failing to use a blinker far enough in advance of a turn.

After stopping Searight, the officers said they discovered, through the New York State Police Information Network (NYSPIN), that a warrant had been issued for Searight in the city of Cortland for felony drug charges, according to the Fourth Department decision released Friday.

The officers called the 911 Center to get more information about the warrant and the 911 Center told them that the Cortland Police Department confirmed that there was an active warrant and requested that Searight be held until a Cortland police officer could take him into custody.

The Syracuse officers arrested Searight based on the supposed warrant. At the police station, the officers asked Searight if he had anything illegal on him and he pulled out two baggies of cocaine, which led to the third-degree criminal possession charges.

“We agree with defendant that the court erred in refusing to suppress defendant’s statements and tangible property, including the cocaine, seized as the result of his arrest, inasmuch as the People failed to meet their burden of showing the legality of the police conduct in arresting defendant in the first instance,” the Fourth Department panel wrote.

According to the decision, an officer can take action based on “a radio bulletin or a telephone or teletype alert from a fellow officer or department and to assume its reliability,” the panel wrote, citing People v. Rosario, a 1991 New York Court of Appeals case.

But under circumstances such as Searight’s case, where the defendant challenges the reliability of the information given to officers, the presumption of probable cause “disappears and it becomes incumbent upon the People to establish that the officer or agency imparting the information in fact possessed the probable cause to act,” the panel wrote, referring to the 1975 Court of Appeals case, People v. Lypka.

“The People failed to meet that burden. Despite defendant’s explicit challenge to the reliability of the information justifying his arrest, the People did not produce the arrest warrant itself prior to the conclusion of the hearing,” the panel wrote.

At the suppression hearing, the prosecution instead relied on the officer’s testimony about his communications with an unidentified person at the 911 Center and his assumption that the 911 Center confirmed the existence of an active and valid warrant, the panel wrote.

“Here, without producing the arrest warrant itself or reliable evidence that the warrant was active and valid, the People did not meet their burden of establishing that defendant’s arrest was based on probable cause,” the panel wrote.

“The court should have granted that part of defendant’s omnibus motion seeking to suppress his statements and tangible property obtained as the result of his illegal arrest, and defendant’s guilty plea must be vacated,” the panel wrote.

Case Digests

See all Case Digests

Law News

See All Law News


How Is My Site?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...