People v. Berrios

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Citation321 N.Y.S.2d 884,270 N.E.2d 709,28 N.Y.2d 361
Parties, 270 N.E.2d 709 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Clothilde BERRIOS, Appellant. The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Edmund BROWN, Appellant. The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Joseph BRYANT, Appellant. The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Hector ORTIZ, Appellant. The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Leonard TATE, Appellant.
Decision Date12 May 1971

Donald H. Zuckerman, Milton Adler, William E. Hellerstein, Lewis B. Oliver, Jr., Carol Berkman and William A. Nelson, New York City, for all appellants.

Burton B. Roberts, Dist. Atty. of Bronx County (Eliot L. Kaplan, Brooklyn, of counsel), for respondent in People v. Berrios.

Eugene Gold, Dist. Atty. of Kings County (Harry Brodbar, of counsel), for respondent in People v. Brown and People v. Ortiz.

Frank S. Hogan, Dist. Atty. of New York County (Michael R. Juviler and Andrew E. Abraham, New York City, of counsel), for respondent in People v. Bryant and People v. Tate.


In each of these five appeals, the defendants have been charged with possession of heroin and arresting officers have testified that glassine envelopes containing narcotics were dropped on the ground as the defendants were approached by the police. We have been called upon to decide whether, in these 'dropsy' cases, or for that matter whenever a warrantless search is presented, it is the People who must bear the burden of proving the legality of the search and seizure. Before reaching the question presented, it is at this juncture appropriate to refer to the particular facts of each case.

In People v. Berrios, an undercover police officer, seated in an unmarked automobile, observed the defendant and another individual walking past the vehicle. As the officer was leaving his car, the defendant dropped a glassine envelope to the street. He was arrested and, following an unsuccessful motion to suppress, tried in Criminal Court, Bronx County. At the trial the defendant and another man testified that the officer had searched them. This testimony was rejected and defendant was found guilty. He appeals to this court from an affirmance of his conviction by the Appellate Term.

In People v. Brown, a plain-clothes patrolman testified at a hearing held on defendant's motion to suppress that he had observed the defendant and several others talking near a park fence. He left his police car and, as he approached the defendant, noticed him open his hand and drop two glassine envelopes. The officer was the only witness and the Criminal Court suppressed the envelopes. Defendant appeals to our court from a reversal of that decision by the Appellate Term.

In People v. Bryant, two undercover policemen were watching the defendant from a parked automobile. They left their vehicle, and as they approached the defendant, 20 glassine envelopes were dropped to the ground. Unlike the other appeals considered herein, neither motion to suppress nor objection to the admissibility of the envelopes appears in the record; defendant appeals from an affirmance of his judgment of conviction.

In People v. Ortiz, two policemen in a radio car had been conducting surveillance of a Brooklyn 'narcotics location' and observed a group of men, including the defendant, leave the building and walk down the street. The group was instructed to stop and nine glassine envelopes were dropped by the defendant. Defendant's motion to suppress was granted by the Criminal Court which rejected the arresting officer's testimony and defendant appeals the reversal of that determination by the Appellate Term.

In People v. Tate, two uniformed officers approached the defendant on a Manhattan street where he had been conversing with a friend. Defendant walked up the steps of a building and dropped packages containing 25 glassine envelopes. The packages were seized and a subsequent search of the defendant, after his arrest in the building, revealed a hypodermic instrument. Defendant was charged with possession of heroin and the instrument and successfully moved to suppress in the Criminal Court. On appeal by the People, the Appellate Term reversed and defendant appeals that determination to this court.

All five defendants have challenged, in this court, the admissibility of the glassine envelopes containing heroin. Simply stated, they have contended that the police testimony in these cases is inherently untrustworthy and the product of fabrication; hence, the argument is advanced that we should require that the People bear the burden of proving admissibility and depart from our present rule which places the burden of showing inadmissibility on the defendant. No argument is proffered that this departure is required by either the State of Federal Constitutions; rather, it is asserted that the change in burden of proof is necessary to alleviate the possibility of perjured police testimony. It is noted by this court that the District Attorney of New York County has joined defense counsel in the Tate case in suggesting the change in burden of proof. This concession does not, however, relieve us from the performance of our judicial function and does not require us to adopt the proposal urged upon us (see People v. Lewis, 26 N.Y.2d 547, 550, 311 N.Y.S.2d 905, 907, 260 N.E.2d 538, 539; Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40, 58, 88 S.Ct. 1889, 20 L.Ed.2d 917).

Initially, it is our view that the argument that a change in burden of proof is necessary is not properly in the Bryant case. There, no motion to suppress was made prior to trial and defendant never objected during the trial to the Admissibility of the evidence seized. Since this issue has not been preserved for our review (People v. Gates, 24 N.Y.2d 666, 301 N.Y.S.2d 597, 249 N.E.2d 450; People v. Fiola, 11 N.Y.2d 157, 227 N.Y.S.2d 423, 182 N.E.2d 100, cf. Lawn v. United States, 355 U.S. 339, 353--354, 78 S.Ct. 311, 2 L.Ed.2d 321) and inasmuch as no showing of reversible error has been made, we conclude that the judgment of conviction should be affirmed.

Turning to the four other appeals, we are not persuaded that a change in burden of proof is indicated.

Thus far, we have made it clear that where a defendant challenges the admissibility of physical evidence or makes a motion to suppress, he bears the ultimate burden of proving that the evidence should not be used against him (see, e.g., People v. Baldwin, 25 N.Y.2d 66, 70, 302 N.Y.S.2d 571, 573--574, 250 N.E.2d 62, 63, 64; People v. Whitehurst, 25 N.Y.2d 389, 391, 306 N.Y.S.2d 673, 674, 254 N.E.2d 905, 906; People v. Malinsky, 15 N.Y.2d 86, 262 N.Y.S.2d 65, 209 N.E.2d 694; see, also, Nardone v. United States,308 U.S. 338, 341--342, 60 S.Ct. 266, 84 L.Ed. 307). Indeed the very words employed by the Legislature in fashioning the motion to suppress suggest no other rational conclusion.

Section 813--c of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides that '(a) person claiming to be aggrieved by an unlawful search and seizure and having reasonable grounds to believe that the property * * * Claimed to have been unlawfully obtained may be used as evidence against him * * * may move for the return * * * or * * * suppression of its use as evidence.' (Emphasis supplied; see, also, CPL, §§ 710.40, 710.60, eff. Sept. 1, 1971.) Since such a person makes the claim because he contends that he is aggrieved and requests the court to give redress to an alleged wrong, it is most reasonable to require him to bear the burden of proof of that wrong. The People must, of course, always show that police conduct was reasonable. Thus, though a defendant who challenges the legality of a search and seizure has the burden of proving illegality, the People are nevertheless put to 'the burden of Going forward to show the legality of the police conduct in the first instance (People v. Malinsky, 15 N.Y.2d 86, 91, n. 2, 262 N.Y.S.2d 65, 209 N.E.2d 694)' (People v. Whitehurst, 25 N.Y.2d 389, 391, 306 N.Y.S.2d 673, 674, 254 N.E.2d 905, 906 (emphasis in original)). These considerations require that the People show that the search was made pursuant to a valid warrant, consent, incident to a lawful arrest, or, in cases such as those here, that no search at all occurred because the evidence was dropped by the defendant in the presence of the police officer.

The several appellants herein and the New York County District Attorney seek a change in these rules of burden of proof. It is argued that the present rule is inadequate to cope with the problem of perjured testimony and recommended that the People should bear the burden of proof. We have been told that with the advent of Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 there has been a great incidence of 'dropsy' testimony by police officers. Hence, this court has been asked to infer that the police are systematically evading the mandate of Mapp by fabricating their testimony. We cannot embrace this Post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning for as the then Judge Warren Burger observed in Bush v. United States, 126 U.S.App.D.C. 174, 375 F.2d 602, 604, '(i)t would be a dismal reflection on society to say that when the guardians of its security are called to testify in court under oath, their testimony must be viewed with suspicion.' Thus, we reject this frontal attack on the integrity of our entire law enforcement system. In so doing, we are not oblivious to the problem that there is always a possibility that a witness will perjure himself. Indeed, this is why credibility is usually a crucial issue whenever facts are in dispute and courts have traditionally addressed themselves to the resolution of this basic question as a part of the fact-finding process. Though it may be an affront to our sensibilities, unfortunately, there are some members of our society who do not take their oath as witnesses seriously and violate it. Some police officers, as well as some in other callings...

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    ...rights are personal and cannot be asserted vicariously,' (emphasis supplied), p. 148. And see People v. Berrios, 28 N.Y.2d 361, 367, 321 N.Y.S.2d 884, 888, 270 N.E.2d 709, 712 (1971), wherein the New York Court of Appeals '(W)e have made it clear that where a defendant challenges the admiss......
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    ...States, 344 F.2d 542, 542-543 (CADC 1965) (Wright, J., concurring in the judgment); People v. Berrios, 28 N.Y.2d 361, 370, 321 N.Y.S.2d 884, 890-891, 270 N.E.2d 709, 714 (1971) (Fuld, C.J., dissenting); People v. Dickerson, 273 Cal.App. 645, 660 n. 4, 78 Cal.Rptr. 400, 403 n. 4 (1969); Tarl......
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  • Objections & related procedures
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books New York Objections
    • 3 Mayo 2022
    ...that the police conduct was improper. This burden-shifting scheme applies to motions to suppress physical evidence. P eople v. Berrios , 28 N.Y.2d 361, 270 N.E.2d 709 (1971). For example, if the defendant challenges a warrantless police search in which evidence was recovered, the prosecutio......

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