STATE v. JEREMY KELLY, SC 18849
Judicial District of Hartford
Criminal; Search and Seizure; Whether Warrantless Seizure of Defendant on Public Street was Justified Because Public Interest in Police Officers' Safety Outweighed Defendant's Personal Liberty Interest. Police officers saw the defendant and Rafael Burgos walking together in Hartford while looking for Pedro Gomez, who was the subject of an arrest warrant for violation of probation. The officers had received information that Gomez was residing in the area, that he possessed a firearm and that he sometimes disguised himself to avoid arrest. They thought that Burgos fit the description they had for Gomez, noticed the defendant clutching his waistband and suspected that the men had just left a location known for drug dealing. The two men fled after the officers displayed their badges and twice asked them to approach their vehicle. The defendant was apprehended, and one of the officers retrieved a bag that he had dropped containing a white substance and another bag containing a white, rock like substance from the defendant's clenched hand. At his trial for narcotics offenses, the defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence seized by the police. He then entered a conditional plea of nolo contendere to the crime of possession of cocaine with the intent to sell and appealed to the Appellate Court. On appeal, he claimed that the officers illegally seized him because they lacked a reasonable and articulable suspicion that he had committed or was about to commit a crime independent of any suspicion they harbored towards Burgos. In affirming the trial court's judgment, the Appellate Court (129 Conn. App. 109), found that the trial court properly determined that the defendant's seizure was justified because the public interest in the police officers' safety during the legal stop of Burgos outweighed the defendant's personal liberty interest in not being inconvenienced. It reasoned that the officers thought that Burgos was Gomez and had a reasonable suspicion that Gomez was armed and had the mindset to elude capture. The Appellate Court noted that the encounter occurred near a location known for drug dealing and that, under such circumstances, there was a real danger that the defendant would interfere with the police investigation in a manner protective of Burgos and potentially harmful to the officers. Moreover, it found that the officers, in confronting Burgos, could not avoid confronting the defendant as well and that the fact that they directed the defendant's movement was merely an inconvenience, much like ordering passengers of a car to wait outside during the completion of a traffic stop. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly upheld as constitutional the warrantless seizure of the defendant on a public street because he was in the company of a person believed to be an individual wanted for violation of probation and whether, in doing so, it relied on facts not found by the trial court when it denied the motion to suppress.