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Zoey, JD
Zoey, JD, Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 25395
Experience:  Active member of the NYS bar since 1989
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If I am sitting on private commercial property in my car at

Customer Question

If I am sitting on private commercial property in my car at night and a police officer sees me (but im not disturbing anyone and there's been NO CALLS) does he have the right to question me about what im doing, ask for my license or run my tags?
I was sitting in a parking lot and a cop came up to me shined his light on the car and asked what i was doing. I told him i was waiting for a buddy and they pulled behind me, got out of their car, walked to mine and asked what i was doing. I explained that i was waiting for a buddy and told them id pull over to the store across the street to meet him. 10 minutes later i decided to leave and they pulled me over saying my tags didn't match. im a car dealer and we switch tags all them time and use temps. Mine had evidently fell off. I was ticketed for fictitious tags, no registration, no insurance (which the dealership HAS) and open container. I believe they had to probable CAUSE to TALK to me in the first place and everything else is poisonous fruit. Am i correct?
Submitted: 11 months ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Zoey, JD replied 11 months ago.
Hello, No, you're not correct. All they need to approach you in a car or on the street is something called an articulable suspicion. This is something less than probable cause, although it has to be more than just a hunch. The officer just has to be capable of putting his suspicions into words. This has been true since Terry v. Ohio defined the law as to street and auto stops back in 1968. The fact that you were sitting in a car after dark on private commercial property to no apparent purpose could reasonably give the officer a suspicion that you may be up to no good. From there, per Terry and the line of cases that have flowed from it, that suspicion would give him the right to then approach your vehicle, ask you to roll down the window and hand over your identification, and even, assuming he felt he needed to go further, to tell you to get out of the car, pat you down for safety, detain you for a brief time and do a cursory inspection and search of your car. To do a full search of your vehicle, however, the officer would need probable cause, a warrant or an exception to the warrant requirement. From there, he sees that your tags don't match, and that would give him probable cause to write you up. I'm not saying that the arrest was valid. That would be determined after a pre-trial suppression hearing if you wish to fight the case. I am only saying that the officer did not need probable cause to approach you in the first place and that the stop would likely withstand Constitutional scrutiny.
Customer: replied 11 months ago.

so would the fact that said PROPERTY was a hotel where people come and go all night and day have any bearing on that?And if I WERE to fight the case in a pretrial hearing what case law would you suggest?

Expert:  Zoey, JD replied 11 months ago.
It's certainly more helpful to your case than if you were somewhere that was closed for the night and you were just loitering in the parking lot. On the other hand, evidence always cuts two ways. If the officer testifies, for example, that as part of his duties it's his responsibility to make sure that hotel patrons can come and go safely, that could still give an articulable suspicion I've already referenced the law which is Terry and its offspring. However, the standard for these suppression hearings has been set by the Supreme Court, which has held that there's no hard and fast rule as to what is or isn't Constitutional. Every Constitutional challenge has to be litigated separately and a case-by-case determination made. The standard the judge must use to evaluate the evidence is what a police officer would find reasonable under all of the facts and circumstances. So at these hearings, the prosecutor will put the officer on the stand and elicit answers to questions which will make the officer's actions look as reasonable as possible. Your lawyer would then cross examine the officer to make everything the officer did appear to be unreasonable. The judge would evaluate all of the evidence, and then make a ruling. If the stop is found to be unconstitutional, your case could be dismissed because of the poisonous tree doctrine. On the other hand, if the stop and the subsequent detention and ticketing withstand Constitutional scrutiny, you would lose the hearing and go directly into trial. These hearings are difficult to win even with a lawyer. Judges give a great deal of discretion to the actions of police in the field and they tend to find their conduct reasonable unless it's way over the top.
Expert:  Zoey, JD replied 11 months ago.
Just checking in to see if you need more help or any clarification of my answer. If so, please reply here on this question thread.