New York v. Class

LOCATION: Court in Ouachita County

DOCKET NO.: 84-1181
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: New York Court of Appeals

CITATION: 475 US 106 (1986)
ARGUED: Nov 04, 1985
DECIDED: Feb 25, 1986

Mark C. Cogan - Pro Hac Vice
Steven P. Kartagener - on behalf of the petitioner
Steven R. Kartagener - for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for New York v. Class

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 04, 1985 in New York v. Class

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Kartagener, I think you may proceed when you're ready.

Steven P. Kartagener:

Thank you, Your Honor.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court, the Court today is being asked to decide whether a New York City police officer's efforts to conduct a routine inspection of an automobile's vehicle identification number, the VIN, located on a dashboard of a car and ordinarily viewable through the windshield, attending a lawful traffic stop for two observed traffic infractions that were observed by the police officer, constitutes a search as that term is defined within the meaning of the fourth amendment.

Now we, of course, argue preliminarily in our brief that no search occurred here because the police officer's actions did not infringe on any reasonable, justifiable expectation of privacy in this case.

Now, of course, it's been said frequently that there are two sides to every argument, and we recognize that, of course.

And what makes this case a little bit special, and we'd like the Court to recognize that, is that regardless of how this Court determines this question of search/non-search, unlike some other cases that have come before the Court recently in which that determination was the final outcome determinative here, regardless of how the Court determines the preliminary question, we suggest that the ultimate conclusion of the Court should be the same... that there was no Fourth Amendment violation here... because we do believe that even if this was a search here, the police officer's actions in this case of opening up a car door and reaching within his hand to move aside a paper that covered the vehicle identification number was so manifestly reasonable, so minimally intrusive under the circumstances, that the proper balance between the individual's rights and the compelling interest of society was struck and that no Fourth Amendment sin occurred in this case.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Counsel, did the decision of the court below rest at all upon the New York Constitution?

Steven P. Kartagener:

Your Honor, the decision of the court below cited the New York State Constitution once in the first sentence of the opinion, finding that the actions of the police officer violated the Fourth Amendment and the New York State Constitution, which by the way is worded in precisely the same fashion as the Fourth Amendment.

Only once does it mention the New York State Constitution, but we think it's rather clear under this Court's determination in Michigan v. Long, the Court does have jurisdiction to hear this case because after mentioning the New York State Constitution, it left it behind and went on to analyze the case in terms of the Fourth Amendment which was cited a number of times within the opinion, and because of the reliance that was placed on a number of the constitutional cases emanating from this Court, cases such as United States v. Chadwick, United States v. Chase, and a number of other cases, and we think that here they only cited the New York State Constitution once in Michigan v. Long... it was twice, and in California v. Carney as well there was a citing to the State's Constitution.

But, we think it clear here that there was not the required plain statement that the decision in this case rested on an adequate and truly independent State ground.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Kartagener.

Steven P. Kartagener:

Yes, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

May I inquire whether under New York law, New York would have required exclusion of the evidence in question?

Steven P. Kartagener:

Well, the New York Court of Appeals said that under the Fourth Amendment, and this is the first case that has gone to the--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

I am asking you, as a matter of New York law, because presumably you practice law there and are familiar with it.

Steven P. Kartagener:

--I would suggest, Your Honor, that New York law would not require the exclusion of evidence, that this is a case of first impression there.

The Court saw no need, as it has in so many other cases, as I might point out, Justice O'Connor, that Court, the New York Court of Appeals, is not shy about making its opinion known when it feels that New York law alone might require the exclusion of evidence although the Fourth Amendment does not.

I would suggest that since this case came down after Michigan v. Long, the New York Court of Appeals was on ample notice as to how to make that plain statement and chose not to do so.

It said it violates the Fourth Amendment and the New York State Constitution, and basically left--

John Paul Stevens:

Would it have... what about the statutory question?

They also said, as I read the last paragraph, that Section 4 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law did not authorize the officer to do what he did.

Steven P. Kartagener:

--Well, that is done, Your Honor, because that was refuting an argument that we made in our brief.

They did not say that that statute, Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 401, prohibited the search.

They merely said that the search violated the Fourth Amendment and 401 which has nothing to do with vehicle identification numbers themselves, did not give the police the authority that we suggest that it might have, and we think that it is one thing to say that a statute doesn't give you the right to do it, and entirely another thing to say the Fourth Amendment proscribes it.

The Court did not say that VTL Section 401 prescribed the search, Justice Stevens.

Thurgood Marshall:

Would you go back... you skipped over... the wording is exactly the same?

Steven P. Kartagener:


The New York's Constitution--

Thurgood Marshall:

So, when they're talking about the Fourth Amendment, could they possibly be talking about the New York--

Steven P. Kartagener:

--Well, I think that because it is precisely the same wording, it's logical that they might frequently cite the New York counterpart to the search and seizure provisions of the federal Constitution, but I think it's clear that the decision rested largely on federal grounds.