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Like Greta Garbo said, “I Want To Be Alone…And The Police Should Leave Me That Way”: Your Constitutional Right To Be Left Alone.


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People v Howard

New York Court Of Appeals

50. N.Y.2d 583

Decided on July 3, 1980

Like Greta Garbo said, “I Want To Be Alone…And The Police Should Leave Me That Way”: Your Constitutional Right To Be Left Alone.

See Also: Jurors Are Sworn, Case Is Dismissed, Prosecutors Move For A New Trial; What Is Double Jeopardy?

Summary: Defendant Howard was walking the streets holding a woman’s vanity case in an area that had a high rate of burglaries when two officers noticed him. They approached Defendant, asked if they could speak with him, but Defendant ignored them. The Officers addressed the Defendant for the second time and got out of their car. Defendant ran, threw the vanity case in a pile of trash, and was restrained. The Officer recovered the vanity case and opened it, revealing a .38 caliber revolver and heroin in glassine envelopes. Defendant was arrested and subsequently pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree. Defendant argued to suppress the evidence based on lack of probable cause. The Court held that an individual approached and questioned by Police has a Constitutional right to remain silent and walk or run away. Police may attempt to question the suspect, but may not pursue absent probable cause to believe that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed.

Issue: Whether a person has the right to remain silent and walk or run away when Police approach and question him.

Holding: The Court held that a person approached and questioned by Police has a Constitutional right to remain silent and walk or run away. The Police cornered Defendant in the basement; defendant threw the vanity case in the garbage to escape; however, the Court held, this did not constitute intentional abandonment of the vanity case. Police did not have probable cause to seize the vanity because there was no indication that criminal activity was afoot.

Facts: Defendant Howard was walking the street in an area that had a high rate of Burglaries when two Police Officers approached him. Defendant was carrying a woman’s vanity case and looked back at the two Officers in a furtive way. Out of curiosity, the two Officers drove their patrol car and pulled over next to Defendant as he was walking, displayed their badges and said, “Police Officer, I would like to speak to you.” Defendant ignored them and continued walking. The Officers repeated the question and got out of the car. Defendant, without saying anything, started to run holding the vanity case. The Officers pursued the Defendant into a basement of a building.

Defendant, in an effort to escape the Police, threw the vanity case in the garbage. The Officers seized the case and opened it revealing a .38 caliber revolver and heroin in glassine envelopes. They arrested Defendant who eventually pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree. At trial Defendant argued to suppress the physical evidence and his application was denied.

Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals held that an individual approached and questioned by Police has a Constitutional right to remain silent and walk or run away.  Defendant glanced at the Officers, changed his direction and continued walking. The Court of Appeals found that Police lacked probable cause and there was no indication that criminal activity was afoot. Accordingly, the indictment of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree was dismissed.


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