A New York Supreme Court judge is expected to rule today on whether evidence against Wharton sophomore Christopher Clemente was illegally seized the night of his arrest on drug and weapons charges. Clemente, who returned to campus this semester after spending most of last semester in New York City jails, faces nine felony drug and weapons charges -- three of which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment -- stemming from his January 9 arrest in a Harlem apartment. This summer, hearings were held on the legality of the search, in which police testified on the events leading up to Clemente's arrest. After the hearings, state prosecutors and Clemente's defense attorneys filed briefs debating the legality of the police search of the apartment and lending new insight into events of the Wharton sophomore's arrest. Both sides agree that on the night of the arrest, seven New York police officers responded to a report of a shooting in apartment 49 of 109 W. 112th St. Although there no one responded to knocks at apartment 49, Clemente answered from inside apartment 48. Police testified that after identifying themselves, they heard running footsteps inside the room, glass breaking and metal or wood being torn apart. An officer outside the building reported seeing a bag with over 2000 vials of crack cocaine and a loaded 9-millimeter handgun being dropped out of an apartment window. Officer Sean McDermott, the first policeman to enter the apartment, testified that as police were securing the entrance corridor, he saw Clemente's hands bleeding. After police secured the corridor, McDermott entered a darkened room in the apartment. It is here where the disputes begin. Clemente's attorneys, civil liberties lawyers Ronald Kuby and William Kunstler, maintain that since the officers were responding to a possible shooting next door, they only had the right to make an emergency search of the apartment to "secure" the room, making sure no shooting victims or perpatrators were present. The attorneys also maintain that police only had a right to confiscate objects "in plain view" that have immediate incriminating nature. They claim specifically that six pieces of evidence, many of which are key to the prosecution's case, are inadmissable. They are: · A loaded M-11 pistol, found behind a radiator. Kunstler and Kuby maintain that legally the officer should not have searched the room after seeing no people and no objects in plain sight. Assistant District Attorney Max Wiley contends that since the officer entered no enclosed areas, opened no containers and touched nothing before seeing the gun, it was legally seized. · $11,000 cash, found in a drawer. Clemente's attorneys state that although the money was in plain view, it was not clear that the money was incriminating and should not have been seized. Wiley states that the money was not seized until officers had reason to believe drug dealing had taken place in the apartment. · A "drug ledger" notebook with Clemente's name in it, found on a table. The defense contends that police had already secured the room twice when the notebook was found. They also say officers had no right to look in the notebook, because it could not have been deemed incriminating. Wiley states that since there was "overwhelming evidence of narcotics trafficking having taken place in the apartment," it was immediately apparent that the book had evidentiary value. · A bag with over 200 vials of crack cocaine, found in the same room on the floor. Kuby and Kunstler again state that room had already been secured twice before the bag was found and was therefore seized illegally. The prosecution claims that since it was in plain view, it was legally confiscated. · A bag with 14 ounces of powder cocaine, found in a closet. Clemente's attorneys state that the whole apartment was secured before officers looked in the closet, adding that the bag, which fell only after shaking a jacket, was also not in plain view. The assistant DA maintains that it would have been too dangerous and taken too long to get a warrant, therefore the emergency situation allowed them to seize the bag. · A shoulder holster, found in a closet. Kuby and Kunstler contend that by the time the officer found the holster, he had already determined no people were present in the room. Wiley states the other evidence of drug activity allowed police to seize the holster. A spokesperson for the New York district attorney's office said that if any of the evidence is ruled inadmissable, the charges against Clemente could change. Clemente's attorneys predicted that they would be successful in having at least some of the evidence suppressed.Comments powered by Disqus
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