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SIBRON v. NEW YORK

decided*fn*: June 10, 1968.

SIBRON
v.
NEW YORK



APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK.

Warren, Black Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Fortas, Marshall

Author: Warren

[ 392 U.S. Page 43]

 MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

These are companion cases to No. 67, Terry v. Ohio, ante, p. 1, decided today. They present related questions under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, but the cases arise in the context of New York's "stop-and-frisk" law, N. Y. Code Crim. Proc. § 180-a. This statute provides:

"1. A police officer may stop any person abroad in a public place whom he reasonably suspects is committing, has committed or is about to commit a felony or any of the offenses specified in section five hundred fifty-two of this chapter, and may demand of him his name, address and an explanation of his actions.

"2. When a police officer has stopped a person for questioning pursuant to this section and reasonably

[ 392 U.S. Page 44]

     suspects that he is in danger of life or limb, he may search such person for a dangerous weapon. If the police officer finds such a weapon or any other thing the possession of which may constitute a crime, he may take and keep it until the completion of the questioning, at which time he shall either return it, if lawfully possessed, or arrest such person."

The appellants, Sibron and Peters, were both convicted of crimes in New York state courts on the basis of evidence seized from their persons by police officers. The Court of Appeals of New York held that the evidence was properly admitted, on the ground that the searches which uncovered it were authorized by the statute. People v. Sibron, 18 N. Y. 2d 603, 219 N. E. 2d 196, 272 N. Y. S. 2d 374 (1966) (memorandum); People v. Peters, 18 N. Y. 2d 238, 219 N. E. 2d 595, 273 N. Y. S. 2d 217 (1966). Sibron and Peters have appealed their convictions to this Court, claiming that § 180-a is unconstitutional on its face and as construed and applied, because the searches and seizures which it was held to have authorized violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961). We noted probable jurisdiction, 386 U.S. 954 (1967); 386 U.S. 980 (1967), and consolidated the two cases for argument with No. 67.

The facts in these cases may be stated briefly. Sibron, the appellant in No. 63, was convicted of the unlawful possession of heroin.*fn1 He moved before trial to suppress

[ 392 U.S. Page 45]

     the heroin seized from his person by the arresting officer, Brooklyn Patrolman Anthony Martin. After the trial court denied his motion, Sibron pleaded guilty to the charge, preserving his right to appeal the evidentiary ruling.*fn2 At the hearing on the motion to suppress, Officer Martin testified that while he was patrolling his beat in uniform on March 9, 1965, he observed Sibron "continually from the hours of 4:00 P. M. to 12:00, midnight . . . in the vicinity of 742 Broadway." He stated that during this period of time he saw Sibron in conversation with six or eight persons whom he (Patrolman Martin) knew from past experience to be narcotics addicts. The officer testified that he did not overhear any of these conversations, and that he did not see anything pass between Sibron and any of the others. Late in the evening Sibron entered a restaurant. Patrolman Martin saw Sibron speak with three more known addicts inside the restaurant. Once again, nothing was overheard and nothing was seen to pass between Sibron and the addicts. Sibron sat down and ordered pie and coffee, and, as he was eating, Patrolman Martin approached him and told him to come outside. Once outside, the officer said to Sibron, "You know what I am after." According to the officer, Sibron "mumbled something and reached into his pocket." Simultaneously, Patrolman Martin thrust his hand into the same pocket, discovering several glassine envelopes, which, it turned out, contained heroin.

The State has had some difficulty in settling upon a

[ 392 U.S. Page 46]

     theory for the admissibility of these envelopes of heroin. In his sworn complaint Patrolman Martin stated:

"As the officer approached the defendant, the latter being in the direction of the officer and seeing him, he did put his hand in his left jacket pocket and pulled out a tinfoil envelope and did attempt to throw same to the ground. The officer never losing sight of the said envelope seized it from the def[endan]t's left hand, examined it and found it to contain ten glascine [ sic ] envelopes with a white substance alleged to be Heroin."

This version of the encounter, however, bears very little resemblance to Patrolman Martin's testimony at the hearing on the motion to suppress. In fact, he discarded the abandonment theory at the hearing.*fn3 Nor did the officer ever seriously suggest that he was in fear of bodily harm and that he searched Sibron in self-protection to find weapons.*fn4

[ 392 U.S. Page 47]

     The prosecutor's theory at the hearing was that Patrolman Martin had probable cause to believe that Sibron was in possession of narcotics because he had seen him conversing with a number of known addicts over an eight-hour period. In the absence of any knowledge on Patrolman Martin's part concerning the nature of the intercourse between Sibron and the addicts, however, the trial court was inclined to grant the motion to suppress. As the judge stated, "All he knows about the unknown men: They are narcotics addicts. They might have been talking about the World Series. They might have been talking about prize fights." The prosecutor, however, reminded the judge that Sibron had admitted on the stand, in Patrolman Martin's absence, that he had been talking to the addicts about narcotics. Thereupon, the trial judge changed his mind and ruled that the officer had probable cause for an arrest.

Section 180-a, the "stop-and-frisk" statute, was not mentioned at any point in the trial court. The Appellate Term of the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction without opinion. In the Court of Appeals of New York, Sibron's case was consolidated with the Peters case, No. 74. The Court of Appeals held that the search in Peters was justified under the statute, but it wrote no opinion in Sibron's case. The dissents of Judges Fuld and Van Voorhis, however, indicate that the court rested its holding on § 180-a. At any rate, in its Brief in Opposition

[ 392 U.S. Page 48]

     to the Jurisdictional Statement in this Court, the State sought to justify the search on the basis of the statute. After we noted probable jurisdiction, the District Attorney for Kings County confessed error.

Peters, the appellant in No. 74, was convicted of possessing burglary tools under circumstances evincing an intent to employ them in the commission of a crime.*fn5 The tools were seized from his person at the time of his arrest, and like Sibron he made a pretrial motion to suppress them. When the trial court denied the motion, he too pleaded guilty, preserving his right to appeal. Officer Samuel Lasky of the New York City Police Department testified at the hearing on the motion that he was at home in his apartment in Mount Vernon, New York, at about 1 p. m. on July 10, 1964. He had just finished taking a shower and was drying himself when he heard a noise at his door. His attempt to investigate was interrupted by a telephone call, but when he returned and looked through the peephole into the hall, Officer Lasky saw "two men tiptoeing out of the alcove toward the stairway." He immediately called the police, put on some civilian clothes and armed himself with his service revolver. Returning to the peephole, he saw "a tall man tiptoeing away from the alcove and followed by this shorter man, Mr. Peters, toward the stairway." Officer Lasky testified that he had lived in the 120-unit building for 12 years and that he did not recognize either of the men as tenants. Believing that he had happened upon the two men in the course of an attempted burglary,*fn6

[ 392 U.S. Page 49]

     Officer Lasky opened his door, entered the hallway and slammed the door loudly behind him. This precipitated a flight down the stairs on the part of the two men,*fn7 and Officer Lasky gave chase. His apartment was located on the sixth floor, and he apprehended Peters between the fourth and fifth floors. Grabbing Peters by the collar, he continued down another flight in unsuccessful pursuit of the other man. Peters explained his presence in the building to Officer Lasky by saying that he was visiting a girl friend. However, he declined to reveal the girl friend's name, on the ground that she was a married woman. Officer Lasky patted Peters down for weapons, and discovered a hard object in his pocket. He stated at the hearing that the object did not feel like a gun, but that it might have been a knife. He removed the object from Peters' pocket. It was an opaque plastic envelope, containing burglar's tools.

The trial court explicitly refused to credit Peters' testimony that he was merely in the building to visit his girl friend. It found that Officer Lasky had the requisite "reasonable suspicion" of Peters under § 180-a to stop him and question him. It also found that Peters' response was "clearly unsatisfactory," and that "under

[ 392 U.S. Page 50]

     the circumstances Lasky's action in frisking Peters for a dangerous weapon was reasonable, even though Lasky was himself armed." It held that the hallway of the apartment building was a "public place" within the meaning of the statute. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court affirmed without opinion. The Court of Appeals also affirmed, essentially adopting the reasoning of the trial judge, with Judges Fuld and Van Voorhis dissenting separately.

I.

At the outset we must deal with the question whether we have jurisdiction in No. 63. It is asserted that because Sibron has completed service of the six-month sentence imposed upon him as a result of his conviction, the case has become moot under St. Pierre v. United States, 319 U.S. 41 (1943).*fn8 We have concluded that the case is not moot.

[ 392 U.S. Page 51]

     In the first place, it is clear that the broad dictum with which the Court commenced its discussion in St. Pierre -- that "the case is moot because, after petitioner's service of his sentence and its expiration, there was no longer a subject matter on which the judgment of this Court could operate" (319 U.S., at 42) -- fails to take account of significant qualifications recognized in St. Pierre and developed in later cases. Only a few days ago we held unanimously that the writ of habeas corpus was available to test the constitutionality of a state conviction where the petitioner had been in custody when he applied for the writ, but had been released before this Court could adjudicate his claims. Carafas v. LaVallee, 391 U.S. 234 (1968). On numerous occasions in the past this Court has proceeded to adjudicate the merits of criminal cases in which the sentence had been fully served or the probationary period during which a suspended sentence could be reimposed had terminated. Ginsberg v. New York, 390 U.S. 629 (1968); Pollard v. United States, 352 U.S. 354 (1957); United States v. Morgan, 346 U.S. 502 (1954); Fiswick v. United States, 329 U.S. 211 (1946). Thus mere release of the prisoner does not mechanically foreclose consideration of the merits by this Court.

St. Pierre itself recognized two possible exceptions to its "doctrine" of mootness, and both of them appear to us to be applicable here. The Court stated that "it does not appear that petitioner could not have brought his case to this Court for review before the expiration of his sentence," noting also that because the petitioner's conviction was for contempt and because his controversy with the Government was a continuing one, there was a good chance that there would be "ample opportunity to review" the important question presented on the merits in a future proceeding. 319 U.S., at 43. This

[ 392 U.S. Page 52]

     was a plain recognition of the vital importance of keeping open avenues of judicial review of deprivations of constitutional right.*fn9 There was no way for Sibron to bring his case here before his six-month sentence expired. By statute he was precluded from obtaining bail pending appeal,*fn10 and by virtue of the inevitable delays of the New York court system, he was released less than a month after his newly appointed appellate counsel had been supplied with a copy of the transcript and roughly two months before it was physically possible to present his case to the first tier in the state appellate court system.*fn11 This was true despite the fact that he took all steps to perfect his appeal in a prompt, diligent, and timely manner.

Many deep and abiding constitutional problems are encountered primarily at a level of "low visibility" in the criminal process -- in the context of prosecutions for "minor" offenses which carry only short sentences.*fn12 We do not believe that the Constitution contemplates that

[ 392 U.S. Page 53]

     people deprived of constitutional rights at this level should be left utterly remediless and defenseless against repetitions of unconstitutional conduct. A State may not cut off federal review of whole classes of such cases by the simple expedient of a blanket denial of bail pending appeal. As St. Pierre clearly recognized, a State may not effectively deny a convict access to its appellate courts until he has been released and then argue that his case has been mooted by his failure to do what it alone prevented him from doing.*fn13

The second exception recognized in St. Pierre permits adjudication of the merits of a criminal case where "under either state or federal law further penalties or disabilities can be imposed . . . as a result of the judgment which

[ 392 U.S. Page 54]

     has . . . been satisfied." 319 U.S., at 43. Subsequent cases have expanded this exception to the point where it may realistically be said that inroads have been made upon the principle itself. St. Pierre implied that the burden was upon the convict to show the existence of collateral legal consequences. Three years later in Fiswick v. United States, 329 U.S. 211 (1946), however, the Court held that a criminal case had not become moot upon release of the prisoner, noting that the convict, an alien, might be subject to deportation for having committed a crime of "moral turpitude" -- even though it had never been held (and the Court refused to hold) that the crime of which he was convicted fell into this category. The Court also pointed to the fact that if the petitioner should in the future decide he wanted to become an American citizen, he might have difficulty proving that he was of "good moral character." Id., at 222.*fn14

The next case which dealt with the problem of collateral consequences was United States v. Morgan, 346 U.S. 502 (1954). There the convict had probably been subjected to a higher sentence as a recidivist by a state court on account of the old federal conviction which he sought to attack. But as the dissent pointed out, there was no indication that the recidivist increment would be removed from his state sentence upon invalidation of the federal conviction, id., at 516, n. 4, and the Court chose to rest its holding that the case was not moot upon

[ 392 U.S. Page 55]

     a broader view of the matter. Without canvassing the possible disabilities which might be imposed upon Morgan or alluding specifically to ...


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