8/5/2013New York: Federal Court Upholds Random License Search
Federal appeals court endorses New York City, New York papers please roadblock.
Motorists suspected of no wrongdoing can be pulled over and their license searched in a database regardless of whether they are suspected of having done anything wrong, a federal court ruled on Thursday. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit found no problem with the way the New York City Police Department (NYPD) handled a roadblock that impeded traffic for two hours in the Bronx on October 5, 2010 just before midnight.
Each person traveling on the road was stopped and ordered to produce his license which an officer ran through the NYPD "Finest" program that checks with NYSpin (New York Statewide Police Information Network). This database combines information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Motor Vehicles and other sources. In the twenty-two years NYPD Officer Ramon Garcia has been running names through the database, he has only made two serious arrests. He ran the license of Ronnie Bernacet that evening and noted that he was on parole.
Bernacet had been released from Sing Sing in 2009 on charges of fifth degree possession of controlled substances, which refers to having the ingredients of a narcotic on his person. The parole expires in September 2014.
Officer Garcia determined that Bernacet was likely violating the terms of his release since it was more than two-and-a-half hours past the usual 9pm curfew imposed on parolees. He ordered Bernacet out of his car and frisked him, finding an Armi Galesi Bresci Brevetto .25 caliber pistol and a knife is his pocket. Bernacet was arrested for being a felon in possession, an arrest the ex-con challenged, arguing that the database search was illegal because it was not closely related to the purported traffic safety purpose of the checkpoint itself. The US Supreme Court's Edmond decision found that roadblocks cannot be used for general crime control, but the NYSpin looked into databases containing information about general crimes, including parole status. Bernacet also argued the evidence of the gun should be suppressed because New York law does not allow police to use warrantless arrests for parole violations to search suspects. The court conceded that Bernacet had a point, but not enough to make a difference.
"We agree that Bernacet's arrest was illegal under New York law but conclude that it was constitutionally permissible," Judge Richard Carl Wesley wrote for the three-judge panel. "The exclusionary rule therefore does not apply."
The court found that the search was not a Fourth Amendment violation simply because it violated one state's law. The court upheld his conviction.
"Bernacet's checkpoint stop was legal and the NYPD had probable cause to believe that he was violating his parole," Judge Wesley wrote. "His arrest by the police staffing the checkpoint, while contrary to New York law, was constitutionally reasonable. The search incident to his arrest uncovered a handgun; because the arrest was constitutionally proper, this weapon was properly admitted at Bernacet's trial."
A copy of the decision is available in a 50k PDF file at the source link below.