Even Where Probable Cause for Arrest Exists, a Search Can Not Be Justified as a Search Incident to Arrest Unless the Searching Officer(s) Intended to Arrest Based Upon the Existing Probable Cause—Here the Officers Did Not Intend to Arrest the Defendant for Littering and the Search Was Therefore Not a Valid Search Incident to Arrest
The Third Department determined the search of defendant's backpack was illegal and suppressed the weapon found. Although the defendant had discarded a cup while the officers were watching him, providing grounds for arrest for littering, the officers did not intend to arrest the defendant for littering and in fact did not charge the defendant with littering. Therefore the search of the backpack could not be justified as a search incident to arrest:
Based on the recent Court of Appeals decision in People v Reid (__ NY3d __ 2014, 2014 NY Slip Op 08759 ), which holds that there must be either an actual or intended arrest for the offense justifying the search, we now reverse.
It is well recognized that the police may search the person or area within the immediate control of any individual who is lawfully placed under arrest … . The warrantless search incident to arrest advances the twin objectives of ensuring the safety of law enforcement and the prevention of evidence tampering or destruction by a suspect. It is not particularly significant whether a search precedes an arrest or vice versa, so long as the two events occur in a nearly contemporaneous manner… . Based on Reid, however, it is now clear that the police must either make an arrest or intend to make an arrest at the time of the search in order for the search to be considered lawful … . The intent to arrest for the offense justifying the search must be present even if a defendant is ultimately arrested for a different offense … .
In Reid, the defendant was pulled over by a police officer after he was observed driving erratically. Based on the defendant's disheveled appearance and odd responses to questions, the officer ordered him out of the car, searched his person, and uncovered a knife in his pocket. Although it was undisputed that the officer's observations gave him probable cause to arrest the defendant for driving while intoxicated, the officer testified at the suppression hearing that he had no intention of arresting the defendant at the time he was initially stopped and searched. The officer also explained that it was not until discovery of the knife that he decided to arrest the defendant. In declining to uphold the search as incident to the defendant's arrest, the Court of Appeals observed that “but for the search,” the arrest “would never have taken place (2014 NY Slip Op 08759, *6),” concluding that it was irrelevant that an arrest for DWI could have been made prior to the search. The Court explained that the search must be “incident to an actual arrest, not just probable cause that might have led to an arrest, but did not” (2014 NY Slip Op 08759, *4). This necessarily requires that, at the time the search is undertaken, an arrest has either been made or the officer has already formulated the intent to effectuate an arrest.
While in this case the officers had probable cause to arrest defendant for littering (see Administrative Code of the City of New York § 16-118…]), defendant was not arrested for that offense. Nor did either of the officers testify at the suppression hearing that they harbored any intent to arrest defendant until they discovered the gun. According to officer Arslanbeck, it was only after they discovered a weapon in defendant's backpack that a decision to arrest him was made. Without an actual arrest or the formulation of an intent to arrest defendant for littering prior to frisking his bag, the search cannot be justified as having been incident to defendant's arrest … . People v Magnum, 2015 NY Slip Op 00796, 1st Dept 2-3-15