People v. Wesley

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Citation540 N.Y.S.2d 757,73 N.Y.2d 351,538 N.E.2d 76
Parties, 538 N.E.2d 76 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Appellant, v. Sammie Lee WESLEY, Respondent.
Decision Date04 April 1989

KAYE, Judge.

The central issue to be decided on this appeal is whether defendant has standing to challenge a search that results in the discovery of contraband, based solely on his alleged constructive possession of that contraband. Consonant with State law since People v. Ponder, 54 N.Y.2d 160, 445 N.Y.S.2d 57, 429 N.E.2d 735, abrogating "automatic standing," we conclude that defendant failed to establish standing to challenge the search and therefore reverse the Appellate Division order overturning his conviction.


Defendant was arrested following a search of the house occupied by his girlfriend, Jacquelin Glass, and their infant son. The Rochester Police Department Narcotics Unit had received information that a large quantity of marihuana had been delivered to that location from Florida. Members of the unit arrived at the house shortly before midnight to execute a "no-knock" search warrant. Police with sledgehammers entered through both the front and side doors. Defendant attempted to hold the front door closed and was handcuffed as soon as the officers were inside.

The search of the house began in the upstairs master bedroom, where the officers immediately found two suitcases contain nearly 75 pounds of marihuana bricks in one of the closets. A smaller quantity of marihuana was discovered in a dresser, along with a handgun and $800 in cash; this dresser contained men's clothing and masculine toilet articles. Another dresser held women's clothing, but also contained a shoe box with a wallet and various items of identification in defendant's name. Other identification belonging to defendant, including a temporary driver's license and birth certificate, as well as unopened mail addressed to him and an address book with his parole officer's card, was found elsewhere in the bedroom. Men's and women's clothing hung in the closet in which the marihuana was discovered. In addition to several scales and a box of envelopes of a type commonly used to package "nickel bags" of marihuana, $18,000 in cash was found in three metal boxes in another bedroom closet; inside one of the boxes was identification bearing a photograph of defendant in the name of Sam Glass.

A search of a second bedroom similarly disclosed men's and women's clothes in the closet, and a large cardboard box holding defendant's correspondence and other personal items, including a number of photographs of him. When the ground floor was searched, more photographs of defendant were found in the living room. A stolen .45 caliber pistol and clip of ammunition were found in the kitchen cupboard. At the time of the search, Glass told one officer that "all the stuff upstairs" belonged to defendant. Both Glass and defendant were charged with possession of the guns and marihuana.

Before trial, both defendants moved for suppression of the fruits of the search. The People opposed defendant's motion on the basis that he had no standing to complain of the search of Glass's house, pointing to defendant's failure in his motion papers to allege any privacy interest in the premises and in particular to earlier testimony before the Grand Jury. Both defendant and Glass had testified under oath before the Grand Jury that defendant never stayed at Glass's house, that he kept no clothes or other personal property there except for a few stored papers, that a male boarder had resided in the house, and that defendant had no proprietary interest in the premises but was merely a visitor, albeit a daily one.

Defendant's motion to suppress was denied for lack of standing. A hearing was conducted on Glass's motion, which was also denied on the ground that the search warrant met the "totality of circumstances" test set forth in Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527. Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of possession of the marihuana and one of the guns, and Glass was convicted on the marihuana charge.

On separate appeals, the Appellate Division, 139 A.D.2d 946, 527 N.Y.S.2d 926, reversed Glass's conviction and dismissed the indictment, holding that the trial court erred in applying the Gates test rather than the Aguilar -Spinelli test ( see, Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108, 84 S.Ct. 1509, 12 L.Ed.2d 723; Spinelli v. United States, 393 U.S. 410, 89 S.Ct. 584, 21 L.Ed.2d 637) in evaluating the search warrant, and that under the latter standard, the warrant application was inadequate (136 A.D.2d 892, 524 N.Y.S.2d 936, lv. denied 71 N.Y.2d 968, 529 N.Y.S.2d 80, 524 N.E.2d 434). The Appellate Division likewise reversed defendant's conviction, citing this court's decisions in People v. Millan, 69 N.Y.2d 514, 516 N.Y.S.2d 168, 508 N.E.2d 903, and People v. Mosley, 68 N.Y.2d 881, 508 N.Y.S.2d 931, 501 N.E.2d 580, rearg. denied 69 N.Y.2d 707, 512 N.Y.S.2d 1031, 504 N.E.2d 399, cert. denied 482 U.S. 914, 107 S.Ct. 3185, 96 L.Ed.2d 673, for the propositions that defendant had standing because "the People rely on the constructive possession of the drugs as the basis for the arrest of defendant" and that "the People may not predicate the charges against defendant on the theory that he constructively possessed the drugs because he was present on the premises at the time the search warrant was executed and simultaneously deprive him of standing to challenge the legality of the search." (139 A.D.2d 946, 527 N.Y.S.2d 926.) The court did not address the question whether defendant's allegations constitu an assertion of a legitimate expectation of privacy in the premises. Reasoning that once standing was established the same result was required in defendant's case as on Glass's appeal, the Appellate Division dismissed the indictment.

We now determine that defendant failed to establish standing to challenge the search and therefore reverse the Appellate Division order.


The exclusionary rule has as an objective the social benefit of deterring unlawful police conduct. Given that the basis of the rule is a social policy judgment, it is not surprising that there has been no consensus concerning the contours of the rule. The decision as to who is, or should be, entitled to enforce the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures necessarily entails balancing the cost of the loss of probative evidence against the gain in deterring lawless police conduct. Courts in other States have chosen to weigh these factors differently, but in this State, as in the Federal courts, it has long been held that the policy best serving these competing interests is one that--recognizing the rights protected by the Fourth Amendment as personal rights--limits invocation of the exclusionary remedy to persons whose own protection has been infringed by the search and seizure. (Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 138, 99 S.Ct. 421, 427, 58 L.Ed.2d 387; People v. Cefaro, 21 N.Y.2d 252, 287 N.Y.S.2d 371, 234 N.E.2d 423, revd. on rearg. on other grounds 23 N.Y.2d 283, 296 N.Y.S.2d 345, 244 N.E.2d 42; compare, People v. Martin, 45 Cal.2d 755, 290 P.2d 855.) "In order to qualify as a 'person aggrieved by an unlawful search and seizure' one must have been a victim of a search and seizure, one against whom the search was directed, as distinguished from one who claims prejudice only through the use of evidence gathered as a consequence of a search or seizure directed at someone else." ( Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 261, 80 S.Ct. 725, 731, 4 L.Ed.2d 697.)

The test by which a defendant's Fourth Amendment personal right, or "standing," is established has hardly been a static one. In early Federal court decisions, a defendant's standing was measured by principles of property law. Only defendants who made affirmative claims of ownership (or possession) of the seized property or of a significant possessory interest in the premises searched had standing to challenge a search and seizure (Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S. 377, 389-390, 88 S.Ct. 967, 973-974, 19 L.Ed.2d 1247).

An exception to this general requirement applied in cases in which a criminal defendant was charged with a possessory offense. In such cases, the defendant was given standing to challenge the search or seizure of contraband without being required to assert ownership or possession of the property or the premises in which it was found. In creating this so-called "automatic standing" exception in Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 80 S.Ct. 725, 4 L.Ed.2d 697, the Supreme Court was concerned with two separate anomalies it perceived in the application of traditional standing rules to cases involving possessory offenses. First was the dilemma faced by the defendant required to admit possession of the property or premises in order to vindicate Fourth Amendment rights, at a time when such evidence was admissible at trial and also likely sufficient for conviction of the charge of possession. Second was the position assumed by the government, characterized by Justice Frankfurter as "contradictory," as it argued in the pretrial stages of the case that the defendant had failed to establish any possessory interest in the property and hence did not have standing, and then proceeded to prove at trial that the defendant had in fact possessed the property (Jones v. United States, supra, at 261-264, 80 S.Ct. at 731-733). The Jones automatic standing rule, which addressed these anomalies, was adopted in this State (see, People v. Hansen, 38 N.Y.2d 17, 377 N.Y.S.2d 461, 339 N.E.2d 873).

Subsequent Supreme Court decisions eliminated both policy bases upon which the automatic standing rule rested. First, in (Simmons v. United States, 390 U.S 377, 88 S.Ct. 967, supra ), the court held...

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