Conviction Overturned, Indictment Dismissed Because Police Illegally Searched the Defendants Backpack

First Department

The First Department, Appellete Term in Manhattan reversed the conviction and dismissed the indictment in the case of People v. Mangum.

In Mangum, on January 26, 2012, police officers Arslanbeck and Porras were on patrol in a New York City housing complex on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The officers first saw Mr. Mangum walking through a courtyard along with two other men, each holding a styrofoam cup. At a suppression hearing, the officers testified that Mr. Mangum was carrying a thin backpack that sagged heavily on its right side. As the trio continued walking, the officers observed Mr. Mangum discard the styrofoam cup onto the grass.

At this point the officers approached Mr. Mangum, instructed him to put his bag on the ground and patted him down. When the backpack was placed on the ground, the officers heard the clank of metal banging on the ground. One of the officers felt Mr. Mangum’s backpack and felt the silhouette of a gun. At this point the officers arrested Mr. Mangum and recovered a quantity of Marihuana and Heroin from his person.

The Supression Court that was conducting the hearing pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark search and seizure case of Mapp v. Ohio, ruled that the police while the police officers did not have probable cause to stop, frisk and arrest Mr. Mangum, the Judge did not suppress the evidence because technically, the officers could have arrested Mr. Mangum for littering.

Under the concept of Search Incident to Lawful Arrest, when the police make an arrest, they have the right to search the arrestee and any objects or containers in his grabable area without a warrant for the two reasons of 1) officer safety, and 2) to preserve evidence.

In the past, Courts have held that as long as probable cause to arrest for any reason existed at the time of the arrest, the subjective mindset of the officer was irrelevant. In other words, even if the officer testified that he did not have a plan to arrest the defendant until after the unlawful search, so long as there was any reason to arrest the defendant, the property recovered as a result of the otherwise illegal search would not be suppressed.

The First Department, following the recent decision of New York’s highest Court, the Court of Appeals, overturned the conviction and suppressed all the evidence recovered by the officers.

In People v Reid, the Court of Appeals held “A search must be incident to an actual arrest, not just to probable cause that might have led to an arrest, but did not.”

Based on Reid, it’s insufficient that the officers could have arrested for littering, the fact that they didn’t and had no intention to do so meant that the government couldn’t argue that as a basis to sanitize the officers’ otherwise unconstitutional conduct.

Read the original decision here.
People v Mangum

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