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Illegal Arrest Attenuated And Evidence Acquired Independently From Illegal Arrest Is Admissible

People v. Jones 

New York Court of Appeals 

22 NY3d at 56

Decided November 19, 2013

Issue: Whether the connection between defendant’s illegal arrest and his subsequent lineup identification was sufficiently attenuated as to dissipate the taint of the wrongful arrest.

Holding: The lineup identification procedure was sufficiently attenuated so that it was not deemed suppressible as a result of the illegal arrest.

Facts: In the early hours of May 16, 2006, a New York City detective responded to a distress call at an apartment building in Manhattan and spoke with the victim and her neighbor about an incident that occurred that morning. According to the victim, a man, whom she later identified as defendant, followed her onto the elevator and demanded money. A struggle ensued. The man was six feet tall, in his early to mid-thirties with dark skin and a large build.  perpetrator had a large nose and went by the street name “Izz.”

The detective contacted a colleague from the Manhattan Gang Unit, who ran the nickname through a database. The detective learned that “Izz” was also known as “Michael Wright.”

Several days later, a sergeant was reviewing the robbery report when he recognized the name of a worker at the store that the victim had visited before she was attacked. The sergeant gave the employee his cell phone number and asked the employee to call him the next time he saw the man.

On May 31, 2006, at approximately 2:00 a.m., while the sergeant was on duty, the store employee called and told him that the man was at the store. The sergeant located the man—defendant—around a nearby corner, and when asked, the defendant identified himself as “Michael Wright” but was unable to produce identification.

Defendant was transported to the precinct six blocks away. Within 15 minutes of his arrival, the sergeant contacted the detective at his home (at approximately 2:30 a.m.) and learned that the detective had placed a photograph of the suspect in his case folder. When the detective arrived at the precinct, he made arrangements for defendant to be placed in a lineup. The victim identified defendant as the perpetrator. Defendant was arrested for and charged with burglary.

Following his conviction, defendant appealed. The Appellate Division held the judgment in abeyance and remitted the matter for a Dunaway hearing. At the hearing, the detective and sergeant, the only two witnesses called, testified essentially to the facts set forth above. The hearing court credited their testimony and concluded that the sergeant lacked probable cause to stop and arrest defendant on May 31, 2006 for the earlier robbery. The court did, however, find that because the detective had independently gathered sufficient evidence tying defendant to the robbery, the sergeant’s discovery of the “fruits” of the detective’s investigation within 30 minutes of defendant’s detention broke the causal connection between the illegal arrest and the lineup identification. The hearing court concluded that the call between the sergeant and the detective constituted an “intervening event” that attenuated the causal connection between the arrest and the lineup identification.

Legal Analysis: The sergeant’s initial arrest of defendant was without probable cause and therefore illegal. But evidence discovered subsequent to an illegal arrest is not indiscriminately subject to the exclusionary rule (see People v Jones, 2 NY3d 235, 241-242 [2004]). Instead, the People “must have ‘somehow exploited or benefited from [the] illegal conduct’ such that ‘there is a connection between the violation of a constitutional right and the derivative evidence’ obtained by the police”.

The People were required to demonstrate that the identification was “acquired by means sufficiently distinguishable from the arrest to be purged of the illegality” (People v Conyers, 68 NY2d 982, 983 [1986]), i.e., that the taint of the illegal arrest was “attenuated” (see Wong Sun v United States, 371 US 471, 491 [1963]). In order to determine whether attenuation exists, the court must “consider ‘the temporal proximity of the arrest and [the evidence at issue], the presence of intervening circumstances and, particularly, the purpose and flagrancy of the official misconduct”.

“Attenuation of evidence from police misconduct” is generally a mixed question of law and fact that is beyond our review unless there is no record support for the Appellate Division’s determination (People v Williams, 17 NY3d. there was record support at the hearing to support the Appellate Division’s attenuation finding.

By the time the sergeant effected the illegal arrest, the detective already had in his possession sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for defendant’s arrest. Within 30 minutes of arriving at the precinct, the sergeant was in contact with the detective, and that conversation led the sergeant to the detective’s case folder and the photograph of defendant. At that point, the sergeant possessed probable cause to detain defendant until the lineup identification eight hours later. Thus, there is clear record support for the Appellate Division’s finding that, at the time of the lineup identification, any taint of the illegal arrest had been attenuated.