The People v. Rayheame Hill


Issue before the Court: Whether the Appellate Division exceeded its jurisdiction in upholding suppression on a ground different than that relied upon by the trial court.


Held: Ruling 4-3 on SSM the majority said no.


Discussion: Investigating a robbery in which a gun was discharged, the detective went to the hospital where defendant was being seen for a bullet wound and searched his belongings, finding proceeds of the robbery.  The detective then searched defendant’s girlfriend’s car and defendant’s father’s home, where defendant resided, recovering more proceeds from the robbery and the gun.  The trial court suppressed the items found at the hospital, but held that defendant lacked standing to contest the other searches or, alternatively, that the police had consent.  The suppression court did not address attenuation. The First Department agreed either with the standing arguments or the consent arguments and found attenuation based on independent source and inevitable discovery. The dissent found no attenuation.


In a three sentence ruling, devoid of any reasoning, the four-judge majority in the COA found “no basis to disturb the suppression determination” and held that “the Appellate Division did not run afoul of our decision in People v LaFontaine (92 NY2d 470 [1998]) or its progeny (see People v Nicholson, 26 NY3d 813, 826 [2016]).”  In a three page dissent, Judge Fahey disagreed, arguing that C.P.L. § 470.15 precluded the Appellate Division from finding attenuation as that issue had not been addressed by the suppression court.


CAL Observes: This case is interesting both procedurally and legally.  From a procedural standpoint, it is remarkable that the LaFontaine issue, which split the Court 4-to-3, and which had not been addressed by the parties in their letter briefs, was decided by the Court on SSM without benefit of any briefing or argument.  Also remarkable is that the majority’s decision makes no effort whatsoever to explain its ruling or rationale, despite the dissent’s extended discussion of the issue.  All told, that would not seem the best way to resolve a disputed issue of appellate jurisdiction.


As for the legal implications of the rulings, given the majority’s brevity those are hard to determine.  Notably, both LaFontaine and Concepcion (which revived LaFontaine from disuse in 2011), dealt explicitly with the Appellate Division upholding suppression on a ground rejected by the suppression court.  Then in Ingram, in 2012, the Court extended (ironically, also in a memorandum decision over a signed dissent), LaFontaine/ Concepcion to where the Appellate Division upheld suppression on a ground not reached by the suppression court.  An exception was recognized in Nicholson, in 2016, where the Court found that the Appellate Division could affirm on the basis of an “unarticulated predicate” of the trial court’s ruling.  One doubts that Nicholson meant to undue Ingram where the Nicholson opinion was drafted by Rivera and joined by Fahey, who now band together again in dissent in this case.  Why this case falls under Nicholson and not Ingram is by no means apparent.  We are left with no guidance, but on time for our summer vacation.