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The Limited Power Of The New York Court Of Appeals: Mixed Questions Of Law And Fact


criminal appeals lawyer, limited jurisdiction, appellate review, exigent circumstances, emergency exception to the warrant requiremnet

People v. Rossi

2014 NY Slip Op 07006

New York Court of Appeals

Decided on: October 16, 2014

Blog by: Stephen N. Preziosi Esq., Criminal Appeals Lawyer

The Emergency Doctrine Exception To The Warrant Rule: A Mixed Question Of Law And Fact.

Issue: Whether exigent circumstances continued to exist after police secured Defendant inside his home and continued to search the premises in order to secure the gun for the protection of the children who may have come across it.

Summary: Police responded to a 911 call from Defendants wife stating that he had shot himself in the hand. The Police entered the apartment where they saw Defendant bleeding from his hand. The officer’s frisked him, but no weapon was found. A third officer began searching the backyard, eventually discovering a loaded gun near a shed, and Defendant was arrested.

At the suppression hearing, Defendant argues that the search of his premises was unconstitutional because by the time the gun was discovered, the scene was secure and the emergency had ended. The Court of Appeals stated that there was record support from the Appellate Division that the search was lawful under the emergency exception and that any further review is beyond their jurisdiction because the emergency doctrine presents a mixed question of law and fact.

See Also: Searches Of Closed Containers Within A Home: Where No Exigent Circumstances Exist, Police Must Obtain A Warrant To Search Closed Container Within A Home.

Holding: The Court of Appeals held that application of the emergency doctrine involves a mixed question of law and fact that is beyond their review so long as there is record support for the findings from the court below. The Court noted that the Appellate Division held Defendant’s incoherence and evasive answers about the location of the gun and the presence of children on the premises, established an ongoing emergency and danger to life, justifying the search for and seizure of the gun.

Note to reader on the powers of the New York Court of Appeals:

The Court of Appeals does not have the power to review any questions of fact and is confined to the review of questions of law. The Court’s power of review is further limited by the requirement that a claim of error of law on the part of the courts below must, in general, have been duly preserved fir review by appropriate motion, objection or other action in the nisi prius court in order to be reviewable as a question of law. In that respect, the review power of the Court of Appeals differs from that of the Appellate Division, which has broad discretionary authority to grant certain relief ‘ in the interest of justice’ even on unpreserved claims of error. It is accordingly necessary, on an appeal to the Court of Appeals, to ascertain what issues of law, if any, are presented by the record.

Facts: Defendant’s wife called 911 and reported that Defendant had shot himself in the hand, but was unable to tell the officer’s the gun’s whereabouts. The officers entered into the apartment, where they saw Defendant bleeding profusely from his hand. The Defendant stated that he did not know where the gun was located and that his three children were in the residence. They drew their weapons and frisked Defendant, but found no weapon.

While an EMT was tending to Defendant’s wounds, a third officer began searching the backyard, eventually discovering a loaded gun near a shed and arrested Defendant. At the suppression hearing, Defendant argues that the search of his premises was unconstitutional because by the time the gun was discovered the scene was secure and the emergency had ended.

The Appellate Division affirmed and held that the Defendant’s incoherence and evasive answers about the location of the gun and the presence of children on the premise, established an ongoing emergency and danger to life, justifying the search for and seizure of the gun.

Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals held that exigent circumstances involves a mixed question of law and fact that is beyond their view so long as there is record support for the findings of the court’s below People v. Doll, 21 NY3d 665, 671 2013.

Here, Defendant argues that the search of his premises was unconstitutional because by the time the gun was discovered, the scene was secure and the emergency had ended. At trial, the People established that the testimony established that for the protection of the children who may have come across the gun, the officers needed to secure it and did so contemporaneously with escorting the children from the residence.

A divided Appellate Division affirmed. The majority determined that Defendant’s incoherence and evasive answers about the location of the gun and the presence of children on the premises, established an ongoing emergency and danger to life, justifying the search for and seizure of the gun. The court further concluded that the suppression testimony established that the officer searching the backyard was aware that other officers were searching the residence, but was unaware that the children were secure and out of danger.

Because there is record support for the majority’s conclusion that the search was lawful under the emergency exception, any further review is beyond the Court of Appeal’s jurisdiction.


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