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Hearing ordered in gun case after judge denied defense motion

Defendant claims traffic stop was racially motivated

A state appeals court has sent a gun case back to the lower court because the judge denied a defense motion without first holding a hearing.

In March 2018 defendant Bruce Jones pleaded guilty to second-degree criminal possession of a weapon before Chemung County Court Judge Christopher P. Baker.

Jones was charged as a passenger after a handgun was found in a vehicle after a police traffic stop.

According to a recent decision by the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Third Department, his attorney filed a motion to suppress statements Jones made to police. The defense later withdrew the request in exchange for Rosario material provided by the prosecutor.

After changing attorneys, Jones ultimately pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of six years, with 2½ years of post-release supervision, which would run concurrently with a sentence for another pending case.

Jones filed a motion to vacate the conviction, arguing that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel because his attorney did not seek suppression of the handgun on the ground that his constitutional rights were violated by what he claimed was a racially motivated traffic stop.

Jones, who is black, supported his claim with sworn affidavits from himself and the driver. The driver, a white woman, stated in her affidavit that, during the police stop, the investigator said to her: “You stupid little white b****. You think this Black guy cares about you, but he’s just using you to run drugs.”

In July 2021, the motion to vacate the conviction was denied without a hearing.

The driver gave police permission to search the car and a handgun was found in a backpack. At the police station, an investigator asked Jones if he wanted to talk about “the stuff in the car” and Jones responded: “You want to talk about a weapon that wasn’t found on me?”

After the investigator pointed out that he had not mentioned a weapon, Jones asked for a lawyer.

“A short time later, defendant acknowledged that he possessed the handgun,” according to the decision.

Jones satisfied his burden to trigger a hearing on suppression of the gun by submitting the affidavit of the driver, the court wrote.

“Tellingly, in opposing the motion, the People neither controverted the driver’s statement nor included an affidavit from the investigator doing so,” the court wrote.

“Having demonstrated his right to a hearing, defendant bears the burden of proving his claims by a preponderance of the evidence,” the court wrote.

“In resolving the motion, the court should undertake an objective analysis of the facts and circumstances of the entire police encounter.”

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