X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Heroin discovered in a defendant’s jacket pocket after he told police that a gun was in the jacket was properly admitted into evidence under the public safety exception to Miranda warning requirements, a federal appeals court has ruled. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in one of the few cases in which it has had the chance to address the exception, said the discovery of the drugs was “merely incidental” to the legitimate search of the defendant’s coat pockets for the protection of police officers on the scene. The ruling in United States v. Estrada, lead docket 02-1543-cr, was issued by a panel of Judges Sonia Sotomayor, Ralph Winter and Richard Wesley, with Judge Sotomayor writing the opinion. The Connecticut Fugitive Task Force executed an arrest warrant for probation violations for Charles DeJesus at an apartment in Bridgeport on Feb. 5, 1997. Members of the five-person team were aware that DeJesus had a criminal record that included two assault convictions. A woman was present in the apartment when the warrant was executed. DeJesus was on the floor and Sergeant Juan Gonzalez was standing over him when DeJesus said “she’s got nothing to do with this,” and “I have a gun” or “I got a gun in my pocket,” while he gestured to a jacket hanging on a chair. Once DeJesus was handcuffed, Gonzalez found a gun and a quantity of heroin in the jacket. While the district court found that the evidence was seized pursuant to a valid search incident to a lawful arrest, it did not address DeJesus’ claim that the statements regarding the gun should be suppressed because they were made before the officers administered a Miranda warning. At a suppression hearing, Special Agent Randy Jarvis testified that Gonzalez made the statements regarding the gun only after being asked by another officer whether there were any weapons in the apartment. At the 2nd Circuit, Sotomayor discussed the public safety exception as carved out by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649 (1984), where the court reversed the suppression of a gun recovered in a supermarket after the police, before giving Miranda warnings, asked the man where the gun was. In Quarles, the Court said that “police officers can and will distinguish almost instinctively between questions necessary to secure their own safety or the safety of the public and questions designed solely to elicit testimonial evidence from a suspect.” The circuit, Sotomayor said, has had “relatively few” chances to address the exception since Quarles — dealing with the issue only in United States v. Newton, 369 F.3d 659 (2004), United States v. Reyes, 353 F.3d 148 (2003) and United States v. Khalil, 214 F.3d 111(2000). THREE PRINCIPLES The cases, the judge said, “distill to three principles” — the first of which is that Miranda warnings need not precede questions that are “reasonably prompted by a concern for the public safety” or the safety of the officers. Second, as outlined in Newton, the questions do not have to follow a formula or be precisely crafted and “[t]hus, a question that plainly encompasses safety concerns, but is broad enough to elicit other information, does not necessarily prevent application of the public safety exception when safety is at issue and context makes clear that the question primarily involves safety.” Third, she said, “we have expressly not condoned the pre-Miranda questioning of suspects as a routine matter.” The officers here knew that DeJesus had convictions for a misdemeanor and felony assault, knew he was a drug dealer who kept drugs on the premises, which gave rise to a “reasonable inference” that he also kept a gun there, and knew that he was a target in a major narcotics trafficking operation, she said. “In light of these facts, the arresting officers had an objectively reasonable need to protect themselves from immediate danger,” Sotomayor said. “The officers had ample reason to fear for their safety.” And the court, she said, was persuaded that the “officer’s questions whether there were any guns in the apartment were narrow in scope, directly targeting the safety concern, and were not posed to elicit incriminating evidence.” The court went out of its way to reiterate the concern expressed in the Reyes case “that the exception must not ‘be distorted into a per se rule as to questioning people in custody on narcotics charges.” In a second ruling, the court found that the District Court erred under Federal Rule of Evidence 609 by limiting the scope of impeachment of government witnesses to the “fact and date of their felony convictions without permitting inquiry into the statutory names of their offenses.” But the circuit found this limitation to be harmless error that did not justify a new trial. Dan E. LaBelle of Halloran & Sage in Westport, Conn., represented DeJesus. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alex Hernandez, Alina P. Marquez and Jeffrey A. Meyer represented the government.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.