In a 3-2 decision (People v. Johnson is not long and worth reading in its entirety) the court managed to rule the following unconstitutional:
In a New York City Housing Authority building, which the testifying officer characterized as a "drug-prone" location, the officer observed defendant descending the stairs to the lobby. Upon seeing the police, defendant "froze," "jerked back," and appeared "as if he was going to go back up the stairs," although he never retreated up the stairs. The officer asked defendant to come downstairs, and defendant complied. The officer inquired whether defendant lived in the building, and defendant replied in the affirmative, whereupon the officer asked defendant to produce identification. Defendant immediately clarified that he was visiting his girlfriend, who lived in the building, and informed the officer that his identification was located in his pocket. As defendant moved his hands to retrieve it, the officer's partner grabbed defendant's left arm and pulled his hand behind his back, revealing a handgun inside defendant's coat pocket. The officer seized the gun and placed defendant under arrest.Seems like good policing to me. This is from the dissent:
Defendant initially told the officers that he lived there. However, when asked for identification, he began to stutter, and changed his story to say that he was visiting his girlfriend. Although defendant stated that he had his identification in his pocket, he began moving his hands "all over the place, especially around his chest area," which the officers interpreted to be threatening and indicative of possession of a weapon. To "take control of the situation" before it could "get out of hand," an officer grabbed defendant's left arm and brought it behind defendant's back, which caused defendant's open jacket to open up further and reveal a silver pistol in the netted interior coat pocket. One officer removed the pistol from the pocket, and another handcuffed defendant.You can also read the New York Times article.
What are police officers now allowed to do? Where exactly in this arrest did police overstep their bounds? I don't get it. The court said it had a problem not with subsequent stop and frisk, but with the initial questioning!? I cannot fathom (maybe somebody can explain to me) why this isn't covered under what is known as the "common-law right of inquiry." See, for instance, People v. Moore, which limited but defined that right.
I don't see how to downplay this decision and say it's no big deal (which is my usual reaction). If you were trying to get police to stop policing, telling officers they don't have the right to question suspicious (and, in the end, armed) suspects seems like the ideal way to do so.