People v. Estrada

Decision Date09 November 1964
Citation253 N.Y.S.2d 876,44 Misc.2d 452
PartiesPEOPLE v. Orlando ESTRADA.
CourtNew York Supreme Court

Aaron E. Koota, Acting Dist. Atty., Kings County, Ira London, Asst. Dist. Atty., of counsel, for the People.

Anthony F. Marra, Legal Aid Society, Patrick M. Wall, New York City, of counsel, for defendant.

NATHAN R. SOBEL, Justice.

This motion to suppress (Code Cr.Proc. § 813-c) raises issues of law not heretofore decided by our appellate courts in this State.

The facts may be briefly stated.

The police had a search warrant for a garage. This factor is however of no moment.

After obtaining the warrant and while continuing their observations of the garage one Puccio was observed 'buying' a silver foil package from a 'seller' in the garage. The defendant Estrada was sent by the seller to the rear of the garage to obtain the package. His possession was thus momentary and transitory in the sale transaction.

A police officer followed Puccio after he left the seller and arrested and searched him. The silver foil package was found to contain narcotics.

Puccio was charged by information in the New York City Criminal Court with the misdemeanor of possession (Penal Law, § 1751-a). Believing that he was searched pursuant to a search warrant, he moved to controvert (Code Cr.Proc. § 807). The Court (Schor, J.) having trial jurisdiction (Code Cr.Proc. § 813-e) ruled that the search warrant was intended for the garage and its occupants (not for possible purchasers) and the search warrant did not describe Puccio. That Court then considered the reasonableness of Puccio's search as incidental to his lawful arrest. It ruled (under Code Cr.Proc. § 177, subd. 1 prior to its amendment July 1, 1963) that what the police officers observed was not the commission of a crime in their presence. The Puccio search was held unreasonable and the narcotics suppressed but of course not returned (§ 813-c).

In the meantime the seller to Puccio (including defendant Estrada) was arrested. He was permitted to plead guilty to a misdemeanor (reduced) in the New York City Criminal Court. Estrada refused to plead guilty. He was eventually charged by the instant indictment with selling (aiding and abetting) to Puccio as a felony (Penal Law, § 1751).

Estrada makes this motion to suppress. He does not contend that he was unreasonably searched since nothing was found upon his person. He contends that contraband unreasonably seized from another (Puccio) may not be used against him. This is the main point made in this motion.

The People raise two secondary issues which are fully discussed since these too have not been the subject of appellate decision.

I. ARE FINDINGS BINDING?

The People urge that the findings of Judge Schor in the Puccio action are not binding upon this Court in the Estrada action.

A short answer is that I find independently (on the basis of the stipulation that the Puccio minutes are deemed for that purpose in evidence) that the narcotics in question were unconstitutionally seized from Puccio.

Ordinarily where the same criminal action is involved, the findings of a judge of any court having jurisdiction to decide the pretrial motion (Code Cr.Proc. § 813-e; cf. People v. Montanaro, 34 Misc.2d 624, 626, 229 N.Y.S.2d 677, 680) is binding upon the judge of the same or any other court. Section 813-d provides, 'If a motion has been made and denied before trial, the determination shall be binding upon the trial court.' Commonly the pre-trial motion and the trial will be in the same court (C.C.P. § 813-e, pars. 1, 2). But the findings of another court are also binding (see par. 3). Also while the statute speaks only of denials of the motion to suppress being binding, this is because under the statutory scheme (see § 813-c, par. 2) the People are prevented from using the evidence if suppressed, viz., 'it shall not be admissible in evidence * * * against the moving party.' The granting of a motion to suppress is in that sense final and no issue can arise as to its binding effect upon another court or judge.

But since the statute makes the evidence inadmissible only 'against the moving party' and Estrada was not the moving party in the successful Puccio motion, I have made the independent finding (supra) that the narcotics sought to be used against Estrada were unconstitutionally seized from Puccio.

II. STANDING

The People contend that Estrada has no 'standing' to move to suppress the product of an unreasonable search of another.

The 'standing' issue is not generally understood. There is much confusion for which the courts are responsible. (See cases under notes 402 and 521 to U.S.C.A. Fourth Amendment.)

Strictly speaking the term 'standing' is applicable only to pretrial motions to suppress. A finding of standing determines no issue of 'admissibility' of the evidence sought to be suppressed. It is merely a recognition of the movant's statutory right to avail himself of the pre-trial statutory procedures (Code Cr.Proc. § 813-c; Fed.Rules Crim.Proc. 41(e)). If statutory 'standing' is found, only then does the Court determine 'admissibility' which most often turns upon the reasonableness of a search.

A finding of 'no standing' however merely determines that the movant may not avail himself of the procedural device of a pre-trial determination. It does not at all determine 'admissibility' at the trial or the constitutionality of the evidence upon which admissibility most often depends. Its net effect is merely to postpone that issue for the trial.

It is quite true that the same facts which determine that the movant has 'no standing' to move pre-trial may often require a finding of 'admissibility' or 'reasonableness' of the search at the trial. But these are quite different issues. The pre-trial issue is properly labelled 'standing'; the issue at the trial is simply one of 'admissibility' of the evidence.

Yet the Courts often refer to the latter as a 'standing' issue. And the Appellate Courts which are compelled to rule usually on both, i. e., a finding of 'no standing' pre-trial and 'admissibility' of the questioned evidence at the trial, quite often refer to both as 'standing' issues (see e. g., Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 80 S.Ct. 725, 4 L.Ed.2d 697). In consequence, it is important to discriminate in reading the cases whether the decisions determine the pre-trial issue of 'standing' or the 'admissibility' of the questioned evidence at the trial.

Thus there are many decisions which hold that a defendant has 'no standing' to move to suppress the product of an 'unreasonable' search of another. (See Note 402, U.S.C.A. Fourth Amendment.) These decisions turn on statutory provisions in those jurisdictions. But there are few which directly or obliquely consider the 'admissibility' at the trial of unconstitutionally seized evidence against one who was not the 'victim' of the unreasonable search. These are discussed infra III.

The issue raised in the instant motion is a true 'standing' issue, i. e., the right of defendant Estrada to avail himself of the pre-trial procedure of a motion to suppress.

Since this is a subsidiary issue, I need not discuss at great length the history of this pre-trial procedure. Suffice it to say that it had its origin in motions for the return of property unlawfully seized by the police. It was made most often before a criminal action was commenced. As such it was intended for the benefit of the 'owner' as a procedural device to obtain the earliest possible restoration and use of his property. One who was not the 'owner' could not avail himself of this summary remedy. He had no 'standing' much as one who seeks to replevin property not belonging to him has no standing.

As developed in practice, the procedure metamorphosed into a pretrial device to suppress the use of evidence after the criminal action had been commenced but before the trial. As such 'ownership' and 'standing' had less significance. It was internally inconsistent for the prosecution to contend that a movant pre-trial did not 'own' or 'possess' the property seized--yet at the trial urge his conviction on the basis of 'ownership' or 'possession' of such property.

As developed, the pre-trial procedure is now as much for the benefit of the prosecution as it is for the defendant. For one thing it removes from the trial disputes over prejudicial police conduct not immediately relevant to issues of guilt. It permits hearsay evidence which would not be admissible at the trial. Perhaps most important it affords the prosecution the remedy of appeal which would not be available if the issue of admissibility is decided adversely on the trial. For these reasons a contention of 'no standing' is self-defeating. In my opinion as asserted today it merely manifests a reluctance to abide by the command of the Fourth Amendment.

The essential point of the foregoing discussion is that the existence of 'standing' is statutory not constitutional. The Fourth Amendment will not be violated if a State denies pre-trial procedures altogether. Nor will it be violated by a State statute conferring standing to supress pre-trial on some but not all. All that the Fourth Amendment requires is that evidence unconstitutionally seized be not admitted at the trial. That determination if not made pre-trial because of 'no standing' must ultimately be made at the trial. The trend of course has been toward pre-trial determination of issues in criminal proceedings.

A determination of 'standing' then depends on the breadth and scope of a particular standing statute. From this viewpoint decisions of other jurisdictions with different standing statutes may be of interest but are not controlling.

All of the considerations discussed were brought to the attention of the Joint Legislative Commission which drafted our State procedural statute (Code Cr.Proc. § 813-c et seq.).

Also considered by the Commission was the then relatively...

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  • People v. Plevy
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 22 Diciembre 1980
    ...will be binding on a defendant at trial (CPL 710.70, subd. 3; see People v. Matera, 45 Misc.2d 864, 258 N.Y.S.2d 2; People v. Estrada, 44 Misc.2d 452, 253 N.Y.S.2d 876, revd. 28 A.D.2d 681, 280 N.Y.S.2d 825, affd. 23 N.Y.2d 719, 296 N.Y.S.2d 364, 244 N.E.2d 57, cert. den. 394 U.S. 953, 89 S......
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    ...to wit: Does Latopolski have 'standing' to raise the question of illegality of seizure in this case? He cites People v. Estrada, 44 Misc.2d 452, 253 N.Y.S.2d 876, as authority in defendant's favor. He concedes, however, that in People v. Cefaro, 45 Misc.2d 990, 258 N.Y.S.2d 289, the same is......
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