County Court of Ulster County v. Allen

PETITIONER: County Court of Ulster County
LOCATION: United States District Court for the District of Columbia

DOCKET NO.: 77-1554
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 442 US 140 (1979)
ARGUED: Feb 22, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 04, 1979

Eileen Shapiro - for petitioners
Eileen F. Shapiro -
Michael Young - for respondents

Facts of the case


Media for County Court of Ulster County v. Allen

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 22, 1979 in County Court of Ulster County v. Allen

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in County Court of Ulster against Allen.

Eileen F. Shapiro:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

Warren E. Burger:

Ms. Shapiro?

Eileen F. Shapiro:

Yes sir.

This habeas corpus proceeding presents two issues.

The first issue is waiver and the second is the constitutionality of the New York State evidentiary presumption, which provides with certain exceptions, that presence in an automobile of any of the weapons enumerated in the statute is presumptive evidence of its possession by all persons occupying the automobile at the time that the weapon is found.

The threshold question here is whether respondents have preserved the question of the statute’s constitutionality or habeas corpus review, considering that respondents failed to object at trail to a jury instruction, which only partially explained the statute and again failed to object either at trail or on their state appeals to the constitutionality of the statute itself.

A consideration of both the facts of this case and the applicable law compelled to finding that respondents have indeed failed to preserve any substitutive constitutional claim for collateral review.

The facts in this case are not in dispute.

The respondents and a 16 year-old girl, who was later adjudicated as a youthful offender, and was therein after referred to as Jane Doe, were riding in a car on the New York State Thruway in upstate Ulster County, when they were stopped for speeding through work zone.

The driver, respondent Lemmons, produced a license and a registration.

A radio check was made and it was determined that he was wanted on a Michigan fugitive warrant.

He was arrested.

One of the policemen, one trooper Askew returned to the vehicle, looked in through the right front passenger window and detected protruding from a ladies handbag, Jane Doe’s handbag, on the floor of the front seat of the car, a .45 automatic pistol.

Potter Stewart:

Is it clear that it was Jane Doe's handbag?

Eileen F. Shapiro:

Yes Your Honor, it is clear, there is no dispute.

He reached in, removed that gun, which turned out to be fully loaded, I believe with modified hollow point bullets and found underneath that gun a second gun, a .38 Smith & Wesson revolver, also fully loaded.

The officer placed all three of the remaining occupants of the car under arrest and then attempted to enter the trunk of the car.

The trunk key was not recovered on any of the respondents, it was not in the car and so when the car was returned to the barracks, the trunk was pried open and the police found therein a pound-and-a-half of heroin and a .45 caliber spitfire machine gun, also loaded with 27 rounds of ammunition.

All four of the passengers were indicted on three counts of felonious weapons possession and one count of narcotics possession, a charge which in New York at that time bore a potential life sentence.

They -- as the record clearly shows, all the parties, the respondents and Jane Doe noted a cooperative defense although they were individually represented by counsel.

In particular, respondents directed their aspect of the defense toward rebutting the articles in the trunk of the car, the heroin count and the machine gun count and Doe’s counsel Mr. Goldberg, who parenthetically is representing respondents in this proceeding, directed his attention toward the handguns in the car.

Potter Stewart:

Well, I thought that Jane Doe was tried in a juvenile proceeding of some kind?

Eileen F. Shapiro:

No, she was tried jointly.

Potter Stewart:

As a co-defendant in this proceeding?

Eileen F. Shapiro:

As a co-defendant and it was not until sentencing that the trial judge set aside her conviction, adjudicated her a youthful offender.

Potter Stewart:

So there were four co-defendants in this case?

Eileen F. Shapiro:

Absolutely, yes.

At the course of the people’s case, the respondents and Jane Doe made a routine pro forma motion to dismiss, which in New York is rarely granted as jeopardy may often attach, should the motion be erroneously granted and then on appeal it cannot be reversed.

The respondents’ motion in particular was directed toward the fact that as the handguns were in Jane Doe’s handbag, they were on her person under the meaning of the statutory presumption at issue and thus they could not be held responsible.