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People v. McGrew

Supreme Court of New York, Fourth Department

February 1, 2013


Appeal from a judgment of the Onondaga County Court (William D. Walsh, J.), rendered June 15, 2009. The judgment convicted defendant, upon a jury verdict, of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and unlawful possession of marihuana.





It is hereby ORDERED that the judgment so appealed from is unanimously reversed on the law, that part of the omnibus motion seeking suppression of physical evidence is granted, the indictment is dismissed, and the matter is remitted to Onondaga County Court for further proceedings pursuant to CPL 470.45.

Memorandum: On appeal from a judgment convicting him following a jury trial of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree (Penal Law § 265.03 [3]) and unlawful possession of marihuana (§ 221.05), defendant contends that reversal is warranted because the police officer who stopped both defendant and his codefendant prior to their arrest lacked the statutory authority to do so. We agree, and conclude that County Court therefore erred in refusing to suppress the physical evidence obtained as a result of that illegal stop.

The subject stop occurred in a college parking lot in the Town of DeWitt at approximately 7:30 p.m. on December 28, 2008. A City of Syracusepolice detective assigned to a security detail for an athletic event at the college saw codefendant approach the foyer of its gymnasium. According to the detective, codefendant then turned around and started walking back in the direction from which he came. The detective followed codefendant in his police car, and observed codefendant approach a parked sedan. Codefendant opened the front passenger-side door of the sedan, leaned in, leaned back out, closed the door and proceeded back toward the gymnasium.

At that point, the detective exited his police vehicle and asked to speak to codefendant, who, according to the detective, smelled of burnt marihuana. Defendant emerged from the car several seconds later and stopped walking when the detective asked to speak with him. The detective then recognized that defendant had bloodshot eyes and also smelled of burnt marihuana, which defendant and codefendant admitted to having smoked. After his partner arrived on the scene, the detective looked into the car with a flashlight to make sure no one else was in that vehicle. He saw a small baggie containing a leafy substance in the compartment of the driver's side door, which he believed to be marihuana. The detective, who detected an odor of unburned marihuana around the car, then asked codefendant and defendant for consent to search that vehicle. Consent was granted, and the ensuing search revealed a loaded revolver on the floor in front of the passenger seat. The detective then called the DeWitt police to effect a formal arrest of defendant and codefendant, and the gun and the marihuana were subsequently seized from the vehicle. The parties thereafter stipulated that the events in question occurred more than 100 yards from the boundary line of the City of Syracuse.

Pursuant to CPL 140.50 (1), "a police officer may [under certain circumstances] stop a person in a public place located within the geographical area of such officer's employment " (emphasis added), the relevant "geographical area" in this case being the City of Syracuse (CPL 1.20 [34-a] [b]). We thus conclude that, under these circumstances, the detective lacked statutory authorization to stop and question defendant in the Town of DeWitt (see People v Howard, 115 A.D.2d 321, 321; Brewster v City of New York, 111 A.D.2d 892, 893). Moreover, on these facts, the detective's violation of CPL 140.50 (1) requires suppression of the evidence derived therefrom, i.e., the gun and the marihuana seized from the car (see People v Greene, 9 N.Y.3d 277, 280-281). We thus grant that part of defendant's omnibus motion seeking suppression of that physical evidence, dismiss the indictment, and remit the matter to County Court for further proceedings pursuant to CPL 470.45.

As an alternative ground for reversal, defendant contends that the court abused its discretion in rejecting defense counsel's peremptory challenge to a prospective juror. This contention is properly before us (see CPL 470.05 [2]; cf. People v Buckley, 75 N.Y.2d 843, 846), and we conclude that it too has merit.

At the outset of jury selection, the court told the attorneys for both defendant and codefendant that they would have a total of 15 peremptory challenges, with seven challenges allocated to defendant and eight to codefendant. Then, consistent with People v Alston (88 N.Y.2d 519, 524-529), the court determined that the parties could exercise peremptory challenges only to the number of jurors necessary to seat a twelve-person venire. Put differently, the court indicated that the parties would consider prospective jurors in groups of equivalent size to the number of seats to be filled on the jury, and that peremptory challenges would be exercised with respect to each such group.

After the prosecutor exercised his peremptory challenges with respect to the first group of prospective jurors, the court turned to the defenses' peremptory challenges, and told codefendant's counsel that "this is a combination. Both of you have to agree." Codefendant's attorney indicated that he had talked with defendant's attorney "about most of these, " and proceeded to exercise four peremptory challenges.

The foregoing peremptory challenges were shared with defendant, and the court did not ask defense counsel about peremptory challenges before proceeding to the next group of seven prospective jurors under consideration. With respect to that group of prospective jurors, the prosecutor had exercised one peremptory challenge and codefendant's attorney had exercised two such challenges before defendant's attorney indicated that "we, " i.e., defendant's attorney and codefendant's attorney, "need to talk a second." After an off-the-record discussion, codefendant's attorney indicated that "we're going to exercise one more peremptory challenge, ...

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