In a recent criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut affirmed the criminal convictions of a defendant, not persuaded by his claims that his protection against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated.
This case arose from an incident that occurred on the morning of November 20, 2005. A Rhode Island police officer trained in narcotics detection was on routine patrol when he saw the defendant driving at a high rate of speed. When the officer began to follow, the defendant sped up and pulled onto a dirt road located less than a mile from the Connecticut state line. The officer initiated a traffic stop, and while requesting identification documents he observed a large, brown paper bag on the front passenger seat as well as the distinct smell of marijuana. The officer inquired about the bag’s contents, to which the defendant replied his lunch was inside. After the officer returned to his cruiser, the defendant sped away toward the state line.
The officer pursued the defendant into Connecticut and observed the defendant driving upwards of 90mph, ignoring stop signs, and illegally passing other vehicles. The officer lost visual of the defendant’s vehicle, at which point he was joined by other Rhode Island officers, one of whom knew where the defendant lived. They immediately proceeded to this property and awaited the arrival of a Connecticut state trooper, after which they walked up the driveway and found the defendant’s car located behind the house. The defendant was not present and the paper bag was missing. A female occupant at the house refused to provide consent to search the house for the defendant. At this point the Rhode Island officer attempted to locate the paper bag along the route of pursuit. He found it in an open field approximately ten minutes later, and the bag contained twelve ounces of marijuana.
The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged on multiple counts, including reckless driving and possession of marijuana. He filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained from the paper bag and its contents, but the motion was denied. The trial court reasoned that the initial stop was justified, and the search at the house fell under the “hot pursuit” exception of the exclusionary rule. In addition, the search of the field was proper because it was not an area over which the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. Following his conviction, the defendant appealed, claiming his rights under the Fourth Amendment were violated.
Under state and federal law, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. This protection requires that the individual have “a legitimate expectation of privacy in the area searched,” which doesn’t include activities outside the immediate vicinity of one’s home. A search conducted without a warrant evidencing probable cause is per se unreasonable, and evidence derived from this illegal search will be excluded unless one of very few exceptions apply. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the “hot pursuit” exception, which permits warrantless entry onto private premises “on the exigency of pursing a fleeing suspect.” However, this requirement also requires immediate and continuous police pursuit. Finally, for purposes of Fourth Amendment analysis, whether a violation occurs does not depend on the law of the state where the action on part of police took place.
In this case, the Appellate Court found no Fourth Amendment violations. The officer was in hot pursuit of the defendant when he searched the defendant’s property. The brief lapse in time between the end of the car chase and the point of the search was insufficient to “thwart the ‘immediate or continuous’ nature of the pursuit.” Furthermore, the defendant did not provide any evidence that he possessed a legitimate expectation of privacy in the field where the paper bag was located. Indeed, because this was an open field, no warrant or warrant exception was necessary for its seizure. Finally, that a Rhode Island police officer was performing his duties within Connecticut was immaterial to the Fourth Amendment analysis. Therefore, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgments.
Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.