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People v. LaFontaine, 1998 N.Y. Int. 0158 (Dec. 3, 1998).


Reviewing court may only consider alledged errors or defects in trial proceedings and may not consider alternative grounds proffered by the state to justify trial court's incorrect determination that an execution of a federal arrest warrant by New Jersey police officers was authorized.



Two New Jersey police officers knocked on Defendant LaFontaine's apartment door in New York City and identified themselves as police. LaFontaine fled to the fire escape and was apprehended by a third officer stationed on the fire escape. The officers had New Jersey and federal arrest warrants for crimes committed previously in New Jersey. In the apartment, the officers found cocaine and drug paraphernalia.

LaFontaine was indicted on two counts of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree and one count of criminally using drug paraphernalia in the second degree. He moved to suppress the cocaine and drug paraphernalia evidence as the fruits of an unlawful arrest. After a hearing, the Supreme Court denied the motion. Although the officers lacked the authority to execute the New Jersey arrest warrant, they lawfully executed the federal warrant and justifiably seized the evidence. LaFontaine then pled guilty to third degree criminal possession of a controlled substance.

On appeal, the Appellate Division upheld the denial of the motion to suppress evidence and affirmed the conviction. While the Appellate Division rejected the Supreme Court's federal warrant basis, it concluded that the officers executed an authorized citizen's arrest. Rejecting all arguments in favor of the arrest, two dissenting justices granted Defendant leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals reasoned that review was limited by statute to the federal warrant issue, on which the court agreed with the analysis of the Appellate Division. The court, finding that the New Jersey officers were not authorized to execute a federal warrant, reversed and remitted the matter to the Supreme Court.



1. Whether the Appellate Division was beyond the scope of its authority when it adopted alternative grounds supporting the lower court's decision in a criminal proceeding, which, although raised at trial, were not properly prescribed for review.

2. Whether the Appellate Division correctly determined that the trial court erred when it found authorization existed for New Jersey police officers to execute a federal arrest warrant.


1. Yes. Both the Appellate Division and the Court of Appeals were limited by statute to the federal warrant issue in these procedural circumstances.

2. Yes. The New Jersey officers were not authorized by any New York statute to execute the federal warrant in New York.


Cases Cited by the Court

Other Sources Cited by the Court



State of the Law Before LaFontaine

An authorized police or peace officer must properly execute a valid warrant to make an arrest. According to the limited case law in New York, only police or peace officers specially authorized to make arrests in New York can execute a federal warrant in New York. See People v. Floyd, 56 Misc. 2d 737 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1968). Out of state police officers may make arrests in New York only in cases of "hot pursuit." N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law § 140.55. There was no "hot pursuit" in this case.

According to N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law § 120.60, only authorized police or peace officers may exercise warrants in New York State. What, then, is an authorized police or peace officer?

N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law § 1.20 [33] explains what a "police officer" is. N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law § 1.20 [34] defines "peace officer" by referring to N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law § 2.10. Neither definition includes officers from states other than New York. Thus the law before LaFontaine was established that in order to make a valid arrest, the arresting party must be a "police or peace officer" which the arresting officers in LaFontaine were not.

Effect of LaFontaine on Current Law

The Court found that in a criminal case, because other issues were not properly prescribed for review to the Appellate Division, the Court of Appeals could consider only alleged errors or defects in the trial court proceedings that affected the disposition. When hearing appeals of criminal convictions, the Appellate Division is limited by N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law § 415.15 to considering only those issues that "may have adversely affected the appellant." Correspondingly, the Court of Appeals is limited by N.Y. Criminal Procedure Law § 470.35(1) to considering two classes of legal issues: (1) those "raised or considered upon the appeal to the intermediate appellate court" and (2) those alleged errors of law or procedural defects "resulting in the original criminal court judgment, sentence, or order." Where the defendant's original appeal raised only one legal issue, neither the Appellate Division nor the Court of Appeals could consider the alternative grounds of decision proffered by the State. The Court suggested that this "exceptional procedural twist . . . blocks . . . sensible management of this case." People v. LaFontaine, 1998 N.Y. Int. 0158 (Dec. 3, 1998) at para. 14. It concluded that its construction was inevitable under the present language of the statutes, so any change must await legislative modification.

The Court held that, on the facts of this case, New Jersey police officers were not authorized to execute a federal arrest warrant. The crux of this case rested on the validity of the arrest upon which the seizure of evidence was predicated. Since the validity of the arrest rested on the authority of the police officers to arrest in New York State, the question of authority was central. Under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 4(d)(1), federal warrants may be executed by Federal Marshals or other officers authorized by law. Specific authorization, as statutorily granted in the case of "hot pursuits," is required for out of state officers to make arrests in New York pursuant to a federal warrant. The Court of Appeals looked to New York state common law and statutory law for such authorization. It found none.

Unanswered Questions

The current statutory authority narrows the Court of Appeals' review powers and limits its consideration to questions of law raised on appeal and defects in the criminal court proceeding. The Court suggests a broadening of its review powers through legislation to consider other available relief. However, the Court fails to provide any guidelines or delineate how broad its review powers should be.

The Court mentions that the issues and alternatives it is unable to consider may be re-examined on remand in the Supreme Court yet it gives no opinion as to which alternatives are more favorable than others. As the Court reasons, a reviewing court should, under some circumstances, be able to preserve a result from a lower court by applying an independent alternative rationale. But in this case, alternate rationales have led to different results and a "fragmented movement up and down for resolution concerning a core issue." LaFontaine at para. 14. The Court is obviously frustrated that this "anomaly rests on unavoidable statutory language" and calls for a legislative modification. Id. Unfortunately, the Court fails to provide any guidance as to what modification or statutory language would avoid the "procedural circuity." Id.

Survey of the Law in Other Jurisdictions

Other jurisdictions have diverse viewpoints concerning the appellate courts' scope of review for appeals of criminal convictions. Some jurisdictions have regulated the scope of review of their appellate courts by enacting statutes similar to New York's. In State v. Bateman, 771 P.2d 314 (Or. App.1989), the Oregon Court of Appeals held that a claim of error was beyond their scope of review, citing an Oregon statute (ORS 138.050) that limited appeals under it to a challenge to the sentence. Under this statute, "other matters were simply not subject to review."

Some states do not rely upon statutes to limit the scope of appellate review. In comparing these jurisdictions, the standards applied to the scope of appellate review vary greatly. In State v. Mills, 913 P.2d 1196 (Idaho 1996), the Idaho Court of Appeals stated that on questions of law, the appellate court applies the standard of free review, though when a second appeal is taken, the appellant may not raise issues in the higher court different from those presented in the intermediate court. On the other end of the spectrum is Guzman v. State, 955 S.W.2d 85 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997), where the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that appellate courts should afford almost total deference to trial courts' rulings on historical facts, application of law to fact questions, or mixed questions of law and fact, "if the resolution of those ultimate questions turns on the evaluation of credibility and demeanor."

Many jurisdictions have followed the general rule that officers may be authorized to make arrests outside their jurisdiction, but only when they are in hot pursuit or have probable cause. In People v. Califano, 85 Cal.Rptr. 292 (1970), a California court held that an arrest in Orange County by Long Beach police officers was not illegal, since the crime had been committed in Long Beach, and they had probable cause to believe that the arrested defendant took part in the crime. Under these circumstances, a California statute extends the authority of a peace officer to any place in the state. Officers not in hot pursuit may still make arrests outside their jurisdiction, but their authority to do so is the same as private citizens. In State v. Stevens, 603 A.2d 1203 (Conn.1992), the Appellate Court of Connecticut ruled that a Connecticut police officer acting as a private citizen in Rhode Island still had the authority to give a motorist Connecticut's implied consent warning, conduct a sobriety test, and request that she submit to blood testing. In Commonwealth v. Gullick, 435 N.E.2d 348 (Mass.1982), the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that a Massachusetts trooper's arrest of defendant after he entered New Hampshire was legal under the New Hampshire law on the ground that the trooper conducted a valid citizen's arrest. See also People v. Plummer, 678 N.E.2d 1079 (Ill. App. 1997). Out-of-jurisdiction officers may also have authority to make arrests based upon implicit requests for assistance. In United States v. Mattes, 687 F.2d 1039 (7th Cir. 1982) the Seventh Circuit ruled that under Wisconsin law, an arrest could be made by an out-of-city police officer in this manner.

However, two Texas cases have not extended jurisdictional authority to out of jurisdiction officers. In Rice v. State, 893 S.W.2d 734 (1995), the Texas Court of Appeals ruled that a Texas Ranger did not have jurisdictional authority to arrest a person in Oklahoma. Likewise, in Ward v. State, 316 U.S.547 (1942), a Texas court ruled that the sheriff of one county had no power to arrest the accused in another county.

Many jurisdictions adhere to the standard that local and state officers can execute a Federal warrant. In People v. Barajas, 81 Cal. App.3d 999 (1978), a California court ruled that local police officers had the authority to arrest for violations of federal immigration laws, and did not violate federal warrant requirements in making a warrant-less arrest. In United States v. Bowdach, 561 F.2d 1160 (5th Cir. 1977), the Fifth Circuit ruled that the defendant's arrest under federal warrant was properly accomplished by Florida state police officers.

Certain jurisdictions have allowed the authority of local and state officers to execute federal warrants to transcend state borders. In Steinert v. United States District Court for the District of Nevada, 543 F.2d 69 (9th Cir. 1976), the Ninth Circuit ruled that an arrest of the petitioner in Nevada was proper despite the fact that the criminal contempt charge stemmed from petitioner's failure to comply with order of district court for the Eastern District of California. The arrest was considered proper since a nationwide service of process for the criminal contempt charge was provided by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

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