People v. Limmia Page
People v. Page, decided June 11, 2020
Factual Background: Mr. Page was a passenger in a car pulled over by a Customs and Border Protection Marine Interdiction Agent. The CBP Agent activated his emergency lights to detain the car after witnessing dangerous driving and a number of near-collisions. After detaining the car and its passengers, the CBP agent waited in his vehicle for the local police to arrive. He accompanied a local police officer to the vehicle “as a safety measure,” but left when additional back-up arrived on scene. The local authorities later searched the car and recovered a gun.
Issue Before the Court: Whether a marine interdiction agent with Customs and Border Protection was limited in his arrest powers by the provision of the C.P.L. governing warrantless arrests by peace officers?
Held: Because a “Customs and Border Patrol Marine Interdiction Agent” is not explicitly enumerated in the statute defining peace officers (which includes “Customs and Border Protection Officers” and “Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol Agents,” the CBP agent here cannot be considered a peace officer.
In a 5-2 decision, the majority went out of its way to expand the policing powers of law enforcement actors during a political moment in which the culture of policing is being rebuked as a systemic malignancy. The majority could have easily adopted the logic of People v. Williams, 4 N.Y.3d 535 (2005) and affirmed the decision of both lower courts in an order that would not have required so much disingenuity. It is truly striking that the highest court in the state would lean this forcefully into a position that is so utterly out of touch, both in terms of its own precedent and the broader societal shift in culture.
Judge Fahey’s dissent, which references the cultural context eschewed by the majority, is equally striking. Fahey (joined by Rivera), explicitly cites the murders of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery as the tragic but predictable consequences of expanding law enforcement power in a society predicated on, and primed for, vigilantism against Black people. The majority circumvents that extremely large elephant in the room by othering the jurisdictions in which those murders happened, as though New York is somehow immune to the same societal disease.
This decision is a sharp blow to advocates who utilize policy considerations (specifically, equity, fairness, and anti-racism) in their arguments before the state’s highest court. We are in the midst of a historic civil rights struggle, and the Court chose to double down on the systems and policies that brought us to this precipice in the first place.