Exigent Arrest Example Case in New York

In People v Smith, 59 NY2d 454 [1983], Defendant was arrested for subway fare beating and wearing a bullet proof vest, was arrested and taken to a room with two police officers. While the Defendant was handcuffed and searched by one officer, a second officer took his briefcase, opened it and found a gun, handcuffs and a handcuff key. The Court found this conduct acceptable since an exigency had existed at the moment the Defendant had been arrested: Whether the circumstances are such as to justify a warrantless search incident to arrest is to be determined . . . . at the time of the arrest, but the justification does not necessarily dissipate with the making of the arrest. For compelling reasons, such as the safety of the officers or the public or to protect the person arrested from embarrassment, a search "not significantly divorced in time or place from the arrest" may be conducted even though the arrested person has been subdued and his closed container is within the exclusive control of the police. 59 NY2d at 458. The Court also noted that the following circumstances existing at the time of arrest would prevent a search of a closed container incident to arrest: the fact that the container was "so securely fastened that the person arrested cannot quickly reach its contents", the fact that the arrestee makes it "unmistakably clear" that he would not seek to gain access to the container or the fact that the container was so small that it could not contain evidence of a crime. The Court held that whether the Defendant could have accessed the briefcase at the time it was being searched was "irrelevant" in the analysis. The Defendant could have accessed the briefcase at the time he was arrested and "neither the distance from nor the time elapsed since the arrest was sufficient to dissipate the reasonableness" of the police conduct. 59 NY2d at 459.