Armed and Unaware of New York Laws; Does Sebastian Telfair Stand A Chance In Court?

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Sebastian Telfair - Image via ExNBA

On Sunday, New York police officers arrested former NBA guard Sebastian Telfair on multiple felony weapons charges.

After pulling over Telfair around 3:00 a.m. for a broken headlight, New York police found three loaded firearms, a semi-automatic rifle, significant amounts of ammunition and a bullet-resistant vest in Telfair’s car.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NYPD

When police officers approached Telfair’s car they smelled the scent of marijuana coming from the vehicle and in plain view police officers could see a burning blunt on the dashboard.

Since Telfair was engaged in criminal activity, this gave the police probable cause to search his vehicle without a warrant. Along with the firearms and ammunition police also found two bags of marijuana. Telfair’s 18-year-old nephew, Jami Thomas, was a passenger in the car and was also arrested.

It is currently unclear as to why Telfair and his cousin were driving around with a small arsenal of loaded weapons and bags of marijuana. It appears that they were prepared to engage in some sort of criminal activity.  However, it is also possible that Telfair was simply driving around with a lot of weapons and drugs for whatever reason.

Edward Hayes, Telfair’s attorney, claims the firearms were registered in the state of Florida. However, while an out-of-state license would suggest that Telfair lawfully obtained the guns, it is not an adequate defense for carrying those guns in New York City. New York as a state has some of the strictest regulations on firearms.

Jeremy Saland, a New York City defense attorney, told Sports Illustrated, that New York is possibly the worst state to be found with an unlicensed loaded weapon.

“You could even have a permit to carry a gun elsewhere in the state of New York, but if you don’t have the requisite license in the City you will face a criminal charge,” Saland said.

“If you possess a loaded firearm outside your home or place of business without the requisite permit,” Saland warns, “you will spend a minimum of three and a half years in a cold cell somewhere upstate upon conviction. Even more frightening, you could be calling state prison ‘home’ for five, ten and up to fifteen years.”

Unfortunately, for Telfair, he will more than likely face some time behind bars. However, crazier things have happened (ask OJ Simpson) and Telfair could possibly beat his case. Telfair could argue that the police officers lacked “probable cause” to search his entire vehicle and thus violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizures.

“It’s not clear to me why the police searched the entire car,” Saland said. Saland suggests the police should have only searched the car in the area where the marijuana was observed.

Although, the New York Court of Appeals has made it very clear that the smell of marijuana, even with nothing more, can be sufficient to provide police officers with probable cause to search an entire automobile and its occupants.  People v. Chestnut, 43 A.D.2d 260 (3rd Dep’t 1974).

In the state of New York, as soon as the police approach your vehicle and smell (or observe minute remnants of) marijuana, they have the right – without your consent, without a warrant, and prior to even arresting you – to order you out of your vehicle and to search every nook and cranny of it.

Telfair and his attorney could have a difficult time arguing against the police officer’s use of probable cause, especially if a blunt was in plain sight. At this point, their best bet might be to strike a plea deal with prosecutors.

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