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Defendant in an Assault of a Police Officer Case Had Been Unlawfully Forcibly Detained- People v. Tucker, 34 N.Y.S.3d 744 (2016)


In People v. Tucker, the Appellate Division considered whether there had been sufficient evidence to prove that the defendant had assaulted a police officer in order to prevent him from performing his lawful duty.

In the early morning hours, three police officers responded to a 911 call, but the caller did not give specifics as to the nature of the emergency.  When they arrived at the scene, the police saw a car abandoned in an intersection and a man struggling with a woman over a purse. After the man and woman were separated, believing that a domestic incident had occurred, one of the police officers attempted to question the woman to determine what was happening. The woman appeared to have been crying, but refused to respond to the officer’s questions. Instead, she was focused on what was happening with the male.  The police officer attempted to handcuff her and told her that she was “going to be detained until I can figure out what’s happening here.” The woman struggled, stating that she did not do anything and did not need to be handcuffed. In the process of struggling, she injured two of the officers. She was subsequently charged with two counts of assault in the second degree.

Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of one count of assault in the second degree and sentenced to two years in prison, to be followed by three years of postrelease supervision.  She appealed. The defendant maintained that the prosecutor failed to prove that the police officer who attempted to detain and handcuff her was performing a lawful duty at the time when she assaulted him.  

In order to be convicted of assault in the second degree under the defendant must have caused a police officer injury with the intent to prevent the officer from performing a “lawful duty.” New York Penal Code § 120.05. The defendant contends that the prosecutor failed to meet his burden of establishing that the injured police officer was engaged in a lawful duty at the time of the assault by the defendant.  In order for a police officer to have the right to physically restrain a person, the officer must have had a reasonable suspicion that the person had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. Here, the police officer admitted that at no time before he attempted to handcuff the defendant did he observe her engage in any criminal activity or any suspicious conduct that could have given rise to a reasonable suspicion that she had committed or was about to commit a crime.  In fact, the police officer testified that she was crying and that she stated that she did not do anything wrong and did not need to be handcuffed. From the testimony it appeared that the reason the police officer attempted to handcuff the defendant was due to his frustration of her lack of cooperation. However, the defendant had a constitutional right not to respond to police inquiry. The failure of the defendant to respond to the police officer’s questions was insufficient to provide the officer with the requisite reasonable suspicion of criminal activity that would give him the right to forcibly detain her.

After viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, the court found that there was no valid reason for the police office to attempt to forcibly detain the defendant.  As a result, her conviction of assault in the second degree was reversed.

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