In this case, the appellate court considered whether evidence should have been suppressed because the defendant’s consent to having his car searched was not voluntary.
In People v. Wright-Hale, the arresting officer went to a hotel in Queens in response to a 911 emergency call that someone was banging on a hotel room door with a firearm. When the arresting officer arrived several other officers were already on the scene. They were talking to the defendant in the hallway. The arresting officer entered the hotel room and learned from the room’s occupant, the defendant’s ex-girlfriend, that the defendant was known to carry a gun. The arresting officer then asked the defendant for permission to search his car. He gave permission, gave the officer his keys, and told the officer which car belonged to him. The officer found a gun in a shoebox in the trunk of the defendant’s car.
The defendant was arrested and charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun and statements that the defendant made to the police. The court denied the motion. The defendant was eventually convicted. He appealed on the grounds that the evidence of the gun should have been suppressed because the officer had no reason to suspect criminal activity. The defendant also argued that the search was involuntary because of the presence of so many police officers and because the arresting officer did not inform the defendant that he had the right to refuse permission to search his car.
The court disagreed with the defendant, concluding that the officer was justified in asking to search the defendant’s car– perhaps because of the information supplied by the defendant’s ex-girlfriend. Furthermore, the evidence submitted at trial showed that the defendant voluntarily allowed the police to search his car. New York courts have concluded that although the police are not required to inform individuals that they have the right to refuse permission for their property to be searched, whether the defendant was told can be taken into consideration in determining whether consent was voluntary. In this case the court viewed the totality of the circumstances and concluded that the defendant’s consent was voluntary and that court was justified in denying the defendant’s omnibus motion to suppress.
According to People v. Gonzalez, 39 N.Y.2d 122 (N.Y. 1976) , in addition to whether the police informed a person of his or her right to refuse to give permission to perform a search, other factors the court will consider in deciding whether a search was voluntary include the number of law enforcement officers present, the age of the person, whether he or she was handcuffed, and whether the person was separated from friends of family members at the scene.