noting flight plus indicia of criminal activity, such as another arrest, may create probable cause under Section 195.05Summary of this case from Paulin v. Figlia
Argued June 3, 1980
Decided July 3, 1980
Appeal from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the First Judicial Department, LOWE, J.
Henry Winestine and William E. Hellerstein for appellant. Mario Merola, District Attorney (Cary W. Sucoff and Timothy J. McGinn of counsel), for respondent.
An individual to whom a police officer addresses a question has a constitutional right not to respond. He may remain silent or walk or run away. His refusal to answer is not a crime. Though the police officer may endeavor to complete the interrogation, he may not pursue, absent probable cause to believe that the individual has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime, seize or search the individual or his possessions, even though he ran away. Nor when the individual, cornered by his pursuers in the basement of a building and while looking for a way out of the basement, drops or throws a package he was carrying into a pile of junk, has he been shown to have intentionally abandoned the package so as to make a warrantless search and seizure permissible. The order of the Appellate Division should, therefore, be reversed, the motion to suppress should be granted and the indictment should be dismissed.
Indicted for criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, defendant Howard moved to suppress the gun and drugs which formed the basis for the indictment. They had been taken from him by Officers Charles Hanley and Cornelius Brosnan, who on the day of the seizure were on anticrime patrol in The Bronx in plainclothes and in an unmarked automobile. At about 1 P.M., in broad daylight, on University Avenue in the vicinity of Father Zeiser Place (an area which had a high incidence of burglaries), the officers observed Howard crossing University Avenue diagonally in a southeasterly direction. Their curiosity was aroused by the fact that defendant was carrying what appeared to be a woman's vanity case. As they passed defendant, both officers saw him look over his shoulder in their direction, in a manner described by Officer Hanley as "furtive". Defendant looked in the direction of the car two or three more times until he reached the center of University Avenue. Then as Hanley pulled the car to the right side of the street, defendant reversed direction, walked to the west side of the street and proceeded south on the sidewalk.
The police car made a U-turn and once again the officers saw defendant look in their direction. As the car neared him, defendant's pace quickened. As the car came parallel with defendant, Officer Brosnan displayed his police shield and said "Police Officer. I would like to speak to you." Though looking directly at the officers, defendant ignored them and continued walking south. The police followed and at the next opening between parked cars, Brosnan repeated the same words, and began to get out of the car. Defendant, without saying anything, started to run, holding the vanity case to his chest like a football would be held. The officers pursued and were joined in the chase by Victor Dragaj, a college freshman. Defendant proceeded over an iron fence, through an alleyway and into the basement of a building, at which point, pursued by Dragaj, defendant threw the vanity case into a pile of junk in the corner and sought but was unable to escape through a door which was locked, or a small window on the far side of the room. Dragaj restrained defendant and was joined by Officer Brosnan, who asked defendant why he had tried to get away. About 25 seconds later they were joined by Officer Hanley, who identified himself as a policeman and asked about the vanity case or box. Dragaj pointed to it and Hanley retrieved it from the rubbish pile, which was beyond defendant's reach, and immediately opened it, revealing a .38 caliber revolver and heroin in glassine envelopes. Hanley then placed defendant under formal arrest.
Criminal Term granted defendant's motion to suppress, concluding that defendant's flight could not escalate suspicion to anything more, that even if defendant's flight made a stop and frisk permissible the officers went beyond the allowable scope of CPL 140.50 since defendant was no threat to the officers' safety and the vanity case was outside the grabbable area, and that there had been no abandonment. The Appellate Division reversed on both grounds, "on the law and the facts" ( 65 A.D.2d 714). Since reversal was not on the law alone defendant's application for permission to appeal was dismissed ( 46 N.Y.2d 1080). Howard then pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a controlled substance and appealed as permitted by CPL 710.70 (subd 2). The Appellate Division having affirmed, without opinion ( 72 A.D.2d 503), leave to appeal was granted by a Judge of this court ( 48 N.Y.2d 801).
Defendant argues that there was no justification for police action of any kind; that in any event he had a constitutional right to refuse to answer a police inquiry; that his exercise of that right by walking and then running away did not justify detention of him or seizure of the vanity case; and that as a matter of law there was no abandonment. While we hold that there was a sufficient basis to permit inquiry, we agree that defendant had the right not to answer, that his running did not, absent any indication that any crime had been or was about to be committed, permit detention; that there was no probable cause for defendant's arrest; and that the vanity case had not been abandoned.
As we have recently had reason to reiterate in People v Belton ( 50 N.Y.2d 447), "[t]he privacy interest of our citizens is far too cherished a right to be entrusted to the discretion of the officer in the field." That privacy interest is protected by the mandate of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and section 12 of article I of our State Constitution both of which, in identical language, state: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." It is protected as well by CPL 140.50, which outlines when a police officer may stop and search persons in a public place, and by decisional law expounding the common law and interpreting the constitutional and statutory safeguards.
CPL 140.50 (subds 1, 3) read, in pertinent part:
"1. [A] police officer may stop a person in a public place * * * when he reasonably suspects that such person is committing, has committed or is about to commit either (a) a felony or (b) a misdemeanor * * * and may demand of him his name, address and an explanation of his conduct.
* * *
"3. When upon stopping a person under circumstances prescribed in [subdivision] one * * * a police officer * * * reasonably suspects that he is in danger of physical injury, he may search such person for a deadly weapon or any instrument, article or substance readily capable of causing serious physical injury and of a sort not ordinarily carried in public places by law-abiding persons. If he finds such a weapon or instrument, or any other property possession of which he reasonably believes may constitute the commission of a crime, he may take it and keep it until the completion of the questioning, at which time he shall either return it, if lawfully possessed, or arrest such person."
The principles that have evolved seek to balance society's interest in the detection and prevention of crime and in the protection of the lives and safety of law enforcement officers with the interest of individuals in living their lives free from governmental interference. Therefore, whether there has been an unreasonable breach of legitimate expectations of privacy involves consideration of (1) the nature and scope or severity of the interference with individual liberty, (2) the public interest served, and (3) the objective facts upon which the enforcement officer relied, in light of his knowledge and experience (see United States v Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 560 [POWELL, J., concurring]; see, also, Brown v Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 50-51; Dunaway v New York, 442 U.S. 200, 211-214; Delaware v Prouse, 440 U.S. 648, 654-655; Terry v Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20-22, which it is argued affect the classifications we enunciated in People v De Bour, 40 N.Y.2d 210).
We have no difficulty in concluding that the officers' request for information from defendant was justified under those criteria. In an area beset by a high burglary rate defendant was seen carrying a woman's vanity case by the officers, one of whom testified that it was not uncommon for a burglar to carry away loot in his victim's luggage. Considering those facts together with defendant's numerous glances at the officers' car, his change of direction and his quickened pace, we conclude that, though the carrying by a man of a woman's purse does not constitute probable cause (People v Davis, 36 N.Y.2d 280, cert den 423 U.S. 876) and though defendant could, the car being unmarked and the officers in plainclothes, have acted evasively out of fear for his own safety, the circumstances constituted a sufficient basis for the inquiry made, which of itself constituted no more than a minor inconvenience to defendant (Davis v Mississippi, 394 U.S. 721, 727, n 6, and cases cited, infra, p 591; see 3 La Fave, Search and Seizure, § 9.2).
While Officer Brosnan conceded that he was "curious as to what was in the bag," his inquiry cannot be said to have resulted from "mere whim, caprice or idle curiosity" (People v De Bour, 40 N.Y.2d, at p 217, supra) in light of the other circumstances, nor is there any indication that it was "undertaken with intent to harass" (id.).
There was, therefore, basis for questioning defendant, but there was nothing that made permissible any greater level of intrusion. The officers had no information that a crime had occurred or was about to take place, had not seen defendant do anything criminal, and were confronted only by facts susceptible of innocent interpretation (State v Saia, 302 So.2d 869 [La], cert den 420 U.S. 1008). Presence in an area of "frequent burglaries" was an insufficient basis (People v Schanbarger, 24 N.Y.2d 288, 291); in this day of unisex haircuts and clothing, the carrying of a woman's vanity case was at best equivocal (People v Davis, 36 N.Y.2d 280, cert den 423 U.S. 876, supra; cf. People v Lakin, 21 A.D.2d 902); and defendant's "furtive" movements (repeated glances, change of direction, quickened pace) were, the car being unmarked and the officers not in uniform as already noted, at best ambiguous (cf. People v Batista, 68 A.D.2d 515, 517; People v Towers, 49 A.D.2d 839; see Search and Seizure: "Furtive" Movement or Gesture as Justifying Police Search, Ann., 45 ALR3d 581, 600). The circumstances justified the inquiry made and would have justified the officers in keeping defendant under observation (People v Sobotker, 43 N.Y.2d 559, 564) but were not a predicate for anything more (cf. Dunaway v New York, 442 U.S. 200, 211-214, supra; Sibron v New York, 392 U.S. 40, 64).
But while the police had the right to make the inquiry, defendant had a constitutional right not to respond. This is so both because the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and its State counterpart (New York Const, art I, § 6) permitted him to remain silent and because the Fourth Amendment and its State counterpart (art I, § 12) protect him from detention amounting to seizure unless there is probable cause. As Mr. Justice BRANDEIS put it long ago in Olmstead v United States ( 277 U.S. 438, 478), defendant had "the right to be let alone."
There are surprisingly few cases explicitly so holding, probably because few individuals feel they can walk away or refuse to answer (see Illinois Migrant Council v Pilliod, 398 F Supp 882, 899, affd 540 F.2d 1062, on reh 548 F.2d 715; ALI Model Code of Pre-Arraignment Procedure , p 257). No New York appellate opinion has dealt with the subject other than as it is touched upon inferentially in general discussion of the right to remain silent (e.g., People v Conyers, 49 N.Y.2d 174), but it has been passed upon at Criminal Term and in out-of-State cases and legal commentaries. Thus, People v Burns ( 91 Misc.2d 1080, 1086 [GOLDFLUSS, J.]), held that "What sets this Nation apart from others is that its system of criminal prosecution is accusatorial, not inquisitorial. A citizen may, if he so chooses, exercise the right to demand that the police secure evidence of his guilt from other sources than from out of his own mouth," and in People v De Fillippo ( 80 Mich. App. 197, 202, revd on other grounds sub nom. De Fillippo v Michigan, 443 U.S. 31) the Michigan Court of Appeals held that "While police may under certain circumstances intrude upon a person's privacy by stopping him and asking questions (Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1; 88 S.Ct. 1868; 20 L.Ed.2d 889), there can be no requirement that the person answer." In support of that holding the Michigan court cited the reference in Davis v Mississippi ( 394 U.S. 721, 727, n 6) to "the settled principle that while the police have the right to request citizens to answer voluntarily questions concerning unsolved crimes they have no right to compel them to answer." Supporting authority is to be found in cases defining "seizure" by whether the individual interrogated had lost his "equal right to ignore his interrogator and walk away" (Terry v Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 33 [HARLAN, J., concurring]; see, also, 392 US, at p 16 [majority opn]; 392 US, at p 34 [WHITE, J., concurring]; accord United States v Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, supra [STEWART, J., in opn in which REHNQUIST, J., joined and with which BURGER, Ch. J., POWELL and BLACKMUN, JJ., did "not necessarily disagree"]). Other cases and authorities conceptually in accord with our holding are United States v Price ( 599 F.2d 494); United States v Wylie ( 569 F.2d 62, cert den 435 U.S. 944); Commonwealth v Ellis ( 233 Pa. Super. 169); State v Tsukiyama ( 56 Haw. 8); State v Evans ( 16 Or. App. 189); People v Ortiz ( 18 Ill. App.3d 431) ; Amsterdam, Federal Constitutional Restrictions on the Punishment of Crimes of Status, Crimes of General Obnoxiousness, Crimes of Displeasing Police Officers, and the Like (3 Crim L Bull 205, 228).
Nor can the failure to stop or co-operate by identifying oneself or answering questions be the predicate for an arrest absent other circumstances constituting probable cause (People v Samuels, 50 N.Y.2d 1035; People v Berck, 32 N.Y.2d 567, 574, cert den 414 U.S. 1093; Brown v Texas, 443 U.S. 47, supra; ALI Model Code of Pre-Arraignment Procedure , p 300; but see 1 La Fave, Search and Seizure, § 3.6, subd [f], pp 673-675). This is because the failure to answer "cannot constitute a criminal act" (People v Schanbarger, 24 N.Y.2d 288, 292, supra).
That does not mean that the police in furtherance of their duties may not continue observation provided that they do so unobtrusively and do not limit defendant's freedom of movement by so doing. Defendant's flight, had there also been indicia of criminal activity, would have been an important factor in determining probable cause (Sibron v New York, 392 U.S. 40, 66, 67, supra; People v Kreichman, 37 N.Y.2d 693, 699; People v Dread, 49 A.D.2d 401, affd 41 N.Y.2d 871; People v Schneider, 58 A.D.2d 817, 818), but where, as here, there is nothing to establish that a crime has been or is being committed, flight, like refusal to answer, is an insufficient basis for seizure or for the limited detention that is involved in pursuit (Brown v Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 50, supra; Sibron v New York, supra; Wong Sun v United States, 371 U.S. 471; People v Kreichman, 37 N.Y.2d, at p 699, supra; State v Finklea, 313 So.2d 224 [La]; 1 La Fave, Search and Seizure, § 3.6, subd [e], p 669; ALI Model Code, p 298 ["The factors of flight and concealment are also attenuated to the point where they will not alone justify an arrest in cases where there is little or no probability that a crime has been committed"]). The circumstances existing at the moment defendant Howard was seized by Officer Brosnan did not constitute probable cause for arrest. The opening of the vanity case cannot be justified as incident to a lawful arrest, nor since it was as the Trial Judge found outside the grabbable area can it be justified under CPL 140.50 (subd 3). The contents of the vanity case must, therefore, be suppressed unless defendant abandoned it.
Property which has in fact been abandoned is outside the protection of the constitutional provisions (People v Pittman, 14 N.Y.2d 885; People v Lopez, 22 A.D.2d 813; People v Prisco, 61 Misc.2d 730). We do not find it necessary to consider whether the facts of this case bring it within the concept of police action short of illegal seizure but sufficiently coercive to nullify an abandonment for Fourth Amendment purposes (see 1 La Fave, Search and Seizure, § 2.6, subd [b], pp 372-374; cf. Commonwealth v Barnett, 484 Pa. 211), for we agree with the hearing Judge that intent to abandon cannot be found on the facts of this case.
Whether there was an abandonment is partly a matter of property law but essentially a question of constitutional law. There is a presumption against the waiver of constitutional rights. It is the People's burden to overcome that presumption by evidence of "`an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege'" (Brookhart v Janis, 384 U.S. 1, 4; Johnson v Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464; People v Whitehurst, 25 N.Y.2d 389, 391). The proof supporting abandonment should "reasonably beget the exclusive inference of the throwing away" (Foulke v New York Cons. R.R. Co., 228 N.Y. 269, 273, quoted with approval in United States v Cowan, 396 F.2d 83, 87). So concealment in a trash can does not constitute an abandonment (Work v United States, 243 F.2d 660, 662; State v Chapman, 250 A.2d 203, 212 [Me]).
As the hearing Judge noted, the act of defendant in holding on to the case during the entire chase belies intention to abandon. Since Dragaj and the police were in hot pursuit, it cannot be found that defendant's act in dropping or throwing the case in the corner while seeking to open or break down the door and window in the basement was an act "involving a calculated risk" rather than a spontaneous reaction to the necessity of evading his pursuers (see People v Boodle, 47 N.Y.2d 398, 404, cert den 444 U.S. 969) or that he purposefully divested himself of possession of the vanity case. Under those circumstances he cannot be said to have knowingly waived his constitutional protection against warrantless search of the case.
(Cf. Walter v United States, 447 U.S. ___, n 11, 48 USLW 4807, 4810, n 11.)
For the foregoing reasons, the order of the Appellate Division should be reversed, the motion to suppress should be granted and the indictment should be dismissed (see Matter of Forte v Supreme Ct. of State of N.Y., 48 N.Y.2d 179).
Certainly, I have no quarrel with two of the conclusions reached by the majority, to wit: that there existed a sufficient basis for the police officers to approach defendant in order to ask questions (see People v De Bour, 40 N.Y.2d 210); and that an individual has the absolute right to refuse to answer inquiries posed to him by law enforcement officers (see People v Rogers, 48 N.Y.2d 167, 176 [dissenting opn]). However, I simply cannot agree with the majority's holding that the police officers could not pursue defendant. Given the particular facts of this case, the officers were completely justified in both chasing and seizing defendant, and searching the vanity case. A contrary conclusion serves merely to deal another serious and unjustifiable blow to effective law enforcement.
This is another in a vast line of cases where the defendant asserts as his sole ground for reversal that the actions of the police officers violated his constitutionally guaranteed right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. (US Const, 4th Amdt; N Y Const, art I, § 12.) While this observation surely does not relieve the courts of their responsibility of overturning a criminal conviction when a valid constitutional claim is asserted no matter how unpleasant the thought that a criminal will "go free because the constable has blundered" (People v De Fore, 242 N.Y. 13, 21 [CARDOZO, Ch. J.]), courts should not blindly reach out and find merit in a constitutional claim where none exists. It seems odd that an admittedly guilty person should be set free, especially where, as here, the police officers acted in a most reasonable manner.
As the majority candidly concedes, the police officers were justified in approaching defendant to request information. Defendant was observed in a high-crime area carrying a woman's vanity case, an item of luggage often times used by a burglar when absconding with his bounty. Further, defendant cast numerous glances at the police officers when they passed him on University Avenue. As Officer Hanley pulled the car to the side of the road, defendant then changed direction to return to the far side of the street. Once the officers made a U-turn to approach defendant, his pace quickened in an obvious attempt to avoid confrontation.
Seeing these highly suspicious acts, the officers were absolutely justified in pulling their car alongside defendant and, after displaying a shield, requesting defendant to speak to them. In addition, the officers acted reasonably in following defendant a short distance to repeat their request. Certainly, the officers could have believed that defendant merely could not hear them when they first approached, due to traffic noise or the like.
Then, as Officer Brosnan began to get out of the car, defendant ran away, clutching the vanity case to his breast. The officers had yet to ask defendant a single question as to his activities, and certainly did not physically intimidate defendant. No guns were drawn, no coercive language was employed, and no binding orders were transmitted.
Yet, faced with these facts of an incriminating nature, the majority today holds that the officers could do no more than follow defendant to observe him from a distance. Such a conclusion borders on the absurd. The officers had every right, if not the obligation, to pursue defendant in order to investigate this highly suspicious conduct. In my opinion, once defendant ran away, the officers' level of suspicion was elevated to one of probable cause, remembering that "[p]robable cause exists if the facts and circumstances known to the arresting officer warrant a prudent man in believing that [an] offense has been committed" by the person to be arrested. (People v Oden, 36 N.Y.2d 382, 384; Brinegar v United States, 338 U.S. 160, 175-176.)
It is true that flight from police, in and of itself, would not constitute a sufficient basis for arrest. However, it is equally as true that defendant's flight is an important factor to be considered when determining whether probable cause existed. (See, e.g., Sibron v New York, 392 U.S. 40, 66-67; People v Kreichman, 37 N.Y.2d 693, 699; People v Schneider, 58 A.D.2d 817, 818; People v Dread, 49 A.D.2d 401, 405; People v Archiopoli, 39 A.D.2d 748.) Here, defendant's flight certainly bolstered and confirmed the officers' suspicion — based upon their prior observations — that defendant was engaging in criminal activity. Thus, the officers had probable cause to arrest defendant, and the arrest was entirely proper.
Nor can I accept the majority's holding that defendant did not evince an intent to abandon the vanity case. I would agree completely with the unanimous Appellate Division that under the circumstances present here "there was an abandonment of the bag." (65 A.D.2d, at p 714.)
As the above-stated analysis demonstrates, the action of the police officers in seizing defendant were totally reasonable and beyond reproach. Thus, this is not the typical case where the theory of abandonment is utilized to explain the dissipation of taint flowing from illegal police activity. (E.g., People v Boodle, 47 N.Y.2d 398, cert den 444 U.S. 969; People v Townes, 41 N.Y.2d 97.) Instead, the record reveals that this is a case where defendant attempted to divest himself of the drugs and gun so that no incriminating evidence could be discovered by the police who were rightfully in pursuit.
When "[t]he actions of defendant indicate an intent to purposefully divest himself of possession of the [property]", an abandonment will be said to have occurred. (People v Brown, 40 A.D.2d 527-528.) Here, there can be no doubt but that defendant, by throwing the vanity case on the pile of junk in the corner of the basement, intended to rid himself of the case containing incriminating evidence. He obviously did not harbor an expectation of retrieving the case, nor is there any evidence that he threw the case in the corner after the police arrived. Rather, defendant attempted to divest himself forever of the damning evidence before the law enforcement officers appeared. For this reason, the warrantless search of the vanity case was proper, inasmuch as defendant abandoned the case, thus relinquishing his privacy interest therein.
Accordingly, since the seizure of defendant and the search of the vanity case were eminently proper, I would affirm the order of the Appellate Division.
Chief Judge COOKE and Judges JONES and FUCHSBERG concur with Judge MEYER; Judge JASEN dissents and votes to affirm in a separate opinion in which Judges GABRIELLI and WACHTLER concur.
Order reversed, etc.