Robin Pena was operating his vehicle in the Bronx in an apparently legal manner when he was stopped by law enforcement for an equipment "violation." Now, Mr. Pena's vehicle was equipped with brake lights on both sides which were fully operational, but, the vehicle also had a safety brake light in the center of the vehicle that was not operational. This created a conflux of different provisions of the vehicle and traffic law which require (1) that the vehicle have at least two operational brake lights on either side of the vehicle, (See Vehicle and Traffic Law ("VTL") 375.40(b)) and (2) that all lights equipped on the vehicle be operational. See VTL 376.4. As is noted by Judges Rivera and Wilson in their dissenting opinions, there is
still no resolution, despite the case being heard by the State's highest court, as to which provision of law prevails and what the law with respect to brake lights really is -- apparently, if one were to remove the brake light it would not be a violation of the VTL but if the center brake light is there, but not operational, it might be a violation of the VTL and a citizen will still be subjected to a forcible seizure depending upon the knowledge of the law enforcement officer making the stop.
In discussion of the facts, the Court of Appeals suggests that the vehicle is road legal so long as it has two brake lights on either side of the vehicle, however, held that a law enforcement officer who was blissfully unaware of the law would have an objectively credible reason to effect a vehicle and traffic stop of a vehicle and not run afoul of the New York and United States Constitutions. Thus, even if the law enforcement officer, who is paid to know and enforce the law, seizes a vehicle because they don't know the law, the exclusionary rule will be inapplicable so long as they had an objective credible reason for stopping the vehicle in the first place. I view this as further erosion of the principal that, under New York law, there is no good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule (see People v. Bigelow, 66 NY2d 417 (1985)) which opined that "if the People are permitted to use the [illegally] seized evidence, the exclusionary rule's purpose is completely frustrated, a premium is placed on the illegal police action and a positive incentive is provided to others to engage in similar lawless acts in the future." Erosion. Its real. Its happening.