People v. Brosnan

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtBREITEL; WACHTLER; FULD; BURKE, JASEN and GABRIELLI, JJ., concur with BREITEL; WACHTLER, J., dissents and votes to reverse in an opinion in which JONES; FULD
Citation344 N.Y.S.2d 900,32 N.Y.2d 254,298 N.E.2d 78
Decision Date02 May 1973
Parties, 298 N.E.2d 78 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Patrick Thomas BROSNAN, Appellant.

Page 900

344 N.Y.S.2d 900
32 N.Y.2d 254, 298 N.E.2d 78
The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent,
v.
Patrick Thomas BROSNAN, Appellant.
Court of Appeals of New York.
May 2, 1973.

Page 901

[32 N.Y.2d 255] Peter M. Fishbein, Wilbert E. Bennett and Richard E. Hershenson, New York City, for appellant.

[32 N.Y.2d 256] Thomas J. Mackell, Dist. Atty. (Cornelius J. O'Brien, Maspeth, of counsel), for respondent.

BREITEL, Judge.

As the aftermath to a casual pick-up acquaintanceship in a drinking bar, and a visit to another bar, defendant was convicted after a jury trial of larceny and assault upon his woman companion. She had been found, abandoned, unconscious, bloodied, and with a fractured skull, beside the gasoline pumps of a service station at 6:00 a.m. The Appellate Division, 31 A.D.2d 975, 299 N.Y.S.2d 263, modified, leaving only the assault conviction outstanding.

On appeal by defendant, the responsibility for the brutal crime is not contested; raised, among others, are issues on search and seizure and the prosecutor's inflammatory summation to the jury. Two Justices in the Appellate Division dissented only on the ground that the prosecutor's summation required a new trial. The primary issue dividing this court is that of the search and seizure of defendant's panel truck, the bloodstained vehicle in which the assault, accompanied by sexual abuse, undoubtedly occurred. Interestingly, and significantly, the issue divides the court not so much on the understanding of the highly-developed rules governing the warrantless search and seizure of property, including motor vehicles, permitted as [32 N.Y.2d 257] incidental to an arrest, or of incriminating evidence and contraband within the plain view of police officers. Instead, it is the characterization of the undisputed evidentiary facts surrounding the arrest of defendant and the observation, seizure and search, in that order, of his panel truck which forks the issue in this court and inevitably leads to the different consequences drawn by the majority and which would be drawn by the dissent.

The conviction should be affirmed. It was the defendant who voluntarily led the investigating police officers to his panel truck, through the glass panes of which they saw the bloodstains on the dashboard, one woman's shoe, and a pair of glasses, confirmatory of

Page 902

the story told by the hospitalized victim. On the basis of the evidence open to their view, they arrested defendant then and there, placed a guard on the panel truck, and within a half hour to an hour and a half, with the aid of police technicians made a detailed search and analysis of the interior of the panel truck. The placing of the guard on the truck was the seizure of the vehicle, and the detailed search, as contrasted with the earlier consensual view of its interior and the seizure, occurred later, a delay of no legal consequence.

On January 7, 1966 * the assault victim Margaret Sullivan, went to a bar in Queens County between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. There she met defendant and another man. At 2:00 a.m. of January 8, the three left the bar in a panel truck, dropped the other man off, and the couple drove on to a bar in Manhattan. The victim remembers returning to Queens in the truck, and that is all. At about 6:00 a.m. she was found when the gasoline station opened, clothed, but lacking one shoe. She was covered with blood and unconscious, and appeared dead to those who first observed her. Her body, particularly about the breasts, nipples, and genital area showed lacerations and tooth marks, with profuse bleeding. It was later determined that her skull had been fractured by a blow with a blunt object delivered with great force.

By investigation at the Queens bar the police learned of defendant's identity and evening association with the victim. They went to defendant's home and asked him to show them his [32 N.Y.2d 258] panel truck. He took them to a public garage across the street. Through the closed window of the truck the police saw a woman's single shoe and pair of glasses, and of greatest significance, the bloodstains on the dashboard. The incriminating circle was complete; the victim's pick-up acquaintance was tied to [298 N.E.2d 80] the assault by the evidence in the panel truck. Defendant was immediately arrested and a police guard placed on the truck to prevent its removal or the removal of its contents. The detective returned later following the seizure with police technicians to make a detailed search and analysis of the interior of the truck and its contents. The search yielded additional incriminating evidence, including a bloodstained automobile exhaust manifold.

Unlike the legion of automobile search and seizure cases which have occasioned interest and difficulty, in his case before the police took any action with respect to the panel truck, they had seen the incriminating evidence in the truck which identified it as the scene of the bloody assault and which linked the victim's last-known companion, the defendant, to its perpetration. The arrest followed the observation.

Page 903

In the cases relied on by defendant the arrest, for whatever other probable cause existed, preceded the taking of the motor vehicle and the delayed search of the vehicle yielded incriminating evidence for the first time, most often of a crime wholly unrelated to the arrest and the probable cause on which the arrest was based (e.g., Dyke v. Taylor Implement Co., 391 U.S. 216, 88 S.Ct. 1472, 20 L.Ed.2d 538; Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364, 84 S.Ct. 881, 11 L.Ed.2d 777). It would be bootless to parse out these cases since the sequence of events in this case makes their rules irrelevant. Because, however, of its recency, heavy reliance on it by defendant, and the peculiar delays in the search that occurred, it may be useful to comment briefly on Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 91 S.Ct. 2022, 29 L.Ed.2d 564.

In the Coolidge case, the seizure of the automobile at the time of Coolidge's arrest, and while it was parked in his driveway, offered no visible circumstance that it had been used in the crime for which Coolidge was being arrested on independent probable cause. The vehicle was then taken to the police station and two days later, and up to 14 months later, the vehicle was searched and tested with highly-so-phisticated techniques. No valid search warrant had ever been obtained. Obviously, this [32 N.Y.2d 259] was not a search and seizure incident to an arrest dispensing with the need for a warrant; the defendant was arrested in his home, and the automobile, as noted, was parked in his driveway.

A case much closer in point is Price v. United States, 121 U.S.App.D.C. 62, 348 F.2d 68, cert. den. 382 U.S. 888, 86 S.Ct. 170, 15 L.Ed.2d 125. In that case the police observed an automobile fitting a description associated wit a recent burglary. It was unoccupied, but without entry police saw burglar's tools and likely loot from the burglary on the rear seat. When the defendant approached the vehicle and entered, the police arrested him. It was held that the incriminating evidence had been seen by the police prior to and when the police arrested the defendant, and that, therefore, the later removal from the car of the evidence at the police station was quite correct, even without a search warrant. (To like effect, see Theriault v. United States, 401 F.2d 79 (8th Cir.), cert. den. 393 U.S. 1100, 89 S.Ct. 898, 21 L.Ed.2d 792 where defendant was arrested in a motel room partly on the basis of incriminating evidence on plain view in his pick-up truck parked in front of the motel room before the arrest was effected; cf. United States v. Wickizer, 465 F.2d 1154 (8th Cir.); Walker v. Beto, 437 F.2d 1018 (5th Cir.); Wilson v. Porter, 361 F.2d 412 (9th Cir.).)

It is noteworthy that in this case, the police, after the arrest of the defendant, obtained a warrant to search his home. Among other

Page 904

things this warrant search yielded up the assault victim's purse with $151 in it. It is evident, then, that the police in this case were not warrant-shy, but were familiar with the rules permitting summary seizure of incriminating evidence on plain view or as incidental to an arrest.

Some of the difficulty in characterizing the operative facts in this case arises from [298 N.E.2d 81] a difference of opinion when the panel truck was seized: that is, whether it was seized at the time of the arrest, or at the later time of the detailed examination of its contents; or whether the seizure was of the truck or only of its selected contents some half hour to an hour and a half later. Of course, the bloodstains in the truck could not be seized separately from the truck, nor is it material whether after seizure the police retained possession of the whole truck.

The truck was seized when a police guard was placed over it in the public garage. The police had thus assumed control and dominion over the truck. It was no longer movable, nor was its [32 N.Y.2d 260] interior accessible to anyone, including the owner or his agent. If the placing of the guard were unlawful, a cause of action for the tort would lie (cf. Jacques v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 30 N.Y.2d 466, 472--473, 334 N.Y.S.2d 632, 637--638, 285 N.E.2d 871, 874--875). There is, moreover, no power in the police without sufficient reason to do less than seize and yet interfere with the use and possession of property. Indeed, the Supreme Court has realistically recognized that there is no difference between placing a police guard on property or taking into full possession and removing it to premises under police control (Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 90 S.Ct. 1975, 26 L.Ed.2d 419).

Thus, in the Chambers case, it was said: 'Arguably, because of the preference for a magistrate's judgment, only the immobilization of the car should be permitted until a search warrant is obtained; arguably, only the 'lesser' intrusion is permissible until the...

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88 practice notes
  • People v. Brensic
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • September 22, 1986
    ...in view of the overwhelming proof of guilt (see, People v. Crimmins, 36 N.Y.2d 230, 367 N.Y.S.2d 213, 326 N.E.2d 787; People v. Brosnan, 32 N.Y.2d 254, 262, 344 N.Y.S.2d 900, 298 N.E.2d E. The Jury Charge The defendant claims that the trial court's charge on the element of intent unconstitu......
  • People v. Clements
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (New York)
    • October 28, 1975
    ...v. Marsh, 20 N.Y.2d 98, 281 N.Y.S.2d 789, 228 N.E.2d 783); the premises within the arrestee's immediate control (People v. Brosnan, 32 N.Y.2d 254, 344 N.Y.S.2d 900, 298 N.E.2d 78; People v. McKnight, 26 N.Y.2d 1034, 311 N.Y.S.2d 922, 260 N.E.2d 552); or the defendant's personal effects whic......
  • People v. Roopchand
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • February 19, 1985
    ...for its prejudicial effect, and it requires greater impropriety to produce that effect in a stronger case" (People v. Brosnan, 32 N.Y.2d 254, 262, 344 N.Y.S.2d 900, 298 N.E.2d 78; see, also, United States v. Johns, 11th Cir., 734 F.2d 657, 661-662; United States v. Weatherless, 4th Cir......
  • People v. Konigsberg
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • May 12, 1988
    ...effect in the context of the entire trial ( see, People v. Galloway, 54 N.Y.2d 396, 446 N.Y.S.2d 9, 430 N.E.2d 885; People v. Brosnan, 32 N.Y.2d 254, 344 N.Y.S.2d 900, 298 N.E.2d 78; People v. Marks, 6 N.Y.2d 67, 188 N.Y.S.2d 465, 160 N.E.2d 26, cert. denied 362 U.S. 912, 80 S.Ct. 662, 4 L.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
88 cases
  • People v. Brensic
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • September 22, 1986
    ...in view of the overwhelming proof of guilt (see, People v. Crimmins, 36 N.Y.2d 230, 367 N.Y.S.2d 213, 326 N.E.2d 787; People v. Brosnan, 32 N.Y.2d 254, 262, 344 N.Y.S.2d 900, 298 N.E.2d E. The Jury Charge The defendant claims that the trial court's charge on the element of intent unconstitu......
  • People v. Clements
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (New York)
    • October 28, 1975
    ...v. Marsh, 20 N.Y.2d 98, 281 N.Y.S.2d 789, 228 N.E.2d 783); the premises within the arrestee's immediate control (People v. Brosnan, 32 N.Y.2d 254, 344 N.Y.S.2d 900, 298 N.E.2d 78; People v. McKnight, 26 N.Y.2d 1034, 311 N.Y.S.2d 922, 260 N.E.2d 552); or the defendant's personal effects whic......
  • People v. Roopchand
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • February 19, 1985
    ...for its prejudicial effect, and it requires greater impropriety to produce that effect in a stronger case" (People v. Brosnan, 32 N.Y.2d 254, 262, 344 N.Y.S.2d 900, 298 N.E.2d 78; see, also, United States v. Johns, 11th Cir., 734 F.2d 657, 661-662; United States v. Weatherless, 4th Cir......
  • People v. Konigsberg
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • May 12, 1988
    ...effect in the context of the entire trial ( see, People v. Galloway, 54 N.Y.2d 396, 446 N.Y.S.2d 9, 430 N.E.2d 885; People v. Brosnan, 32 N.Y.2d 254, 344 N.Y.S.2d 900, 298 N.E.2d 78; People v. Marks, 6 N.Y.2d 67, 188 N.Y.S.2d 465, 160 N.E.2d 26, cert. denied 362 U.S. 912, 80 S.Ct. 662, 4 L.......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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