CONSTITUTIONAL LAW - NEW
YORK STATE CONSTITUTION - N.Y. CONST. ART. I § 12 - SEARCH AND SEIZURE
- PROBABLE CAUSE - EQUAL PROTECTION - FOURTH AMENDMENT - VEHICLE AND TRAFFIC
LAW - TRAFFIC VIOLATION - PRETEXTUAL STOP
The decision to stop a vehicle
is valid whenever a police officer has probable cause to believe that a traffic
violation has occurred, regardless of the officer's ulterior motivations. Accordingly,
defendants cannot challenge such searches and seizures on the grounds that the
stop was pretextual.
This decision consolidates three cases in which
Defendants sought to suppress evidence seized during police searches conducted
after allegedly pretextual traffic stops (during which an officer stops a vehicle for
a minor traffic violation in order to perform an otherwise unlawful search or
- In the first case, People v. Robinson, police officers stopped
a cab after they observed it running a red light, allegedly to give the driver safety
tips. However, when one of the officers noticed that Defendant passenger was wearing
a bulletproof vest, officers ordered Defendant out of the car and found a
gun where he was sitting. The officers arrested Defendant and charged him with
criminal possession of a weapon and unlawfully wearing a bulletproof vest.
- In People v. Reynolds, while following a vehicle on a solicitation suspicion,
a police officer ran a computer check of the vehicle's license plate and stopped
the truck for having an expired registration. The officer then arrested Defendant
for driving while intoxicated and operating an unregistered motor vehicle.
- In People v. Glenn, police noticed a cab turn without signaling and saw one
of the backseat passengers leaning forward. The officers stopped the cab on the
suspicion that a robbery was in progress. Thereupon, they found drugs on the rear
seat and in Defendant's possession. Defendant was arrested and charged with federal
Defendants in all three cases sought to suppress evidence based on the protections
against unreasonable searches and seizures provided in Article
I § 12
of the New York State Constitution. They argued that the traffic
stops were pretextual, and that the officers primarily and improperly stopped
the cars to investigate other suspicions.
The Court, in resolving all three cases, held that when a police officer has
a valid reason to stop a vehicle based on a perceived traffic violation, the
stop is lawful regardless of any secondary intent. Furthermore, a defendant
cannot challenge searches and seizures made during the stop based on the grounds
that the stop was pretextual. In its decision, the Court expressly adopted the
standard of Whren
v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996), as a matter of New York state
law. In Whren, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously held that a vehicle
stop is reasonable when police have probable cause to believe that a vehicle
or traffic violation has occurred. In adopting Whren, the Court of Appeals
found that ulterior motives are irrelevant when an actual traffic violation
has occurred, and that challenges to the validity of a subsequent search or
seizure will not turn on whether the reasonable stop was pretextual. The Court
did discuss equal protection concerns, stating that this case "addresses
only the initial police action upon which the vehicular stop was predicated.
The scope, duration and intensity of the seizure, as well as any search made
by the police subsequent to that stop, remain subject to the strictures of Art.
I § 12 of the New York State Constitution and to judicial review."
In its holding, the Court expressly rejected both the "primary motivation"
test and "reasonable police officer" test.
The dissent argued that because driving is a ubiquitous activity, and because
"total compliance with traffic and safety laws is nearly impossible,"
the majority's decision sweeps too broadly and allows officers to conduct searches
and seizures in a manner that violates the Fourth
Amendment of the United States Constitution.
ISSUE & DISPOSITION
Whether a police officer who stops a vehicle with
probable cause to believe that the driver committed a traffic violation violates
Article I § 12
New York State Constitution because the officer's primary motivation was to search
the vehicle or to conduct another unrelated investigation.
No. The decision
to stop a vehicle is reasonable whenever a police officer has probable cause to
believe that a traffic violation occurred, regardless of any ulterior motivations.
Accordingly, defendants cannot challenge such searches and seizures on the grounds
that the stop was pretextual. The Court adopts Whren
v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996)
, as a matter of New York state law.
Cases Cited by the Court
v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996).
York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691 (1987).
v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 (1979).
States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873 (1975).
v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886).
States v. Botero-Ospina, 71 F.3d 783 (10th Cir. 1995).
States v. Scopo, 19 F.3d 777 (2d Cir. 1994).
- Brown v.
State of New York, 89 N.Y.2d 172 (N.Y. 1996).
- People v.
Spencer, 84 N.Y.2d 749 (N.Y. 1995).
- People v.
Harris, 77 N.Y.2d 434 (N.Y. 1991).
- People v. David L., 81 A.D.2d 893 (N.Y. 1982).
- People v. Troiano, 35 N.Y.2d 476 (N.Y. 1974).
Other Sources Cited by the Court
Const. amend. IV. (Search & Seizure)
Const. amend XIV. (Equal Protection Clause).
- N.Y. Const.
art. I § 12.
- Veh.& Traf. Law
- Abraham Abramovsky and Jonathan I. Edelstein, Pretext Stops and Racial
Profiling after Whren v United States: The New York and New Jersey Responses
Compared, 63 Alb. L. Rev. 725 (2000).
- David A. Harris, The Stories, the Statistics, and the Law: "Driving
While Black" Matters, 84 Minn. L. Rev. 265, 296 (1999).
- Hon . Phyllis W. Beck and Patricia A. Daly, State Constitutional Analysis
of Pretext Stops: Racial Profiling And Public Policy Concerns, 72 Temp.
L. Rev. 597 (1999).
- People v. Marsh, 20 N.Y.2d 98 (N.Y. 1967)
- People v. Ynoa, 223 A.D.2d 975 (N.Y. App. Div. 1996)
- People v. James, 217 A.D.2d 969 (N.Y. App. Div. 1995)
- People v. Vasquez, 173 A.D.2d 580 (N.Y. App. Div. 1991)
- People v. Watson, 157 A.D.2d 476 (N.Y. App. Div. 1990)
- People v. Flanigan, 56 A.D.2d 658 (N.Y. App. Div. 1977)
- State v. Ladson, 979 P.2d 833, 842-43 (Wash. 1999)
- David A. Sklansky, Traffic Stops, Minority Motorists, and the Future
of the Fourth Amendment, 1997 Sup. Ct. Rev. 271 (1997).
- Robert M. Pitler, Independent State Search and Seizure Constitutionalism:
The New York State Court of Appeals' Quest for Principled Decisionmaking,
62 Brook. L. Rev. 1, 282-283 (1996).