Judge in Joseph Beer case denies suppression of text messages

Joseph Beer in court in Mineola on Thursday,

Joseph Beer in court in Mineola on Thursday, May 8, 2014. Beer is accused of being high on marijuana and driving more than 100 mph when he crashed on the Southern State Parkway on Oct. 8, 2012, killing four of his friends. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Texts from Joseph Beer's cellphone won't be excluded from his aggravated vehicular homicide trial after a state trooper changed his testimony about where he found the device.

Nassau County Judge David Sullivan Wednesday rejected a defense bid to suppress evidence from the phone, ruling police didn't illegally seize it at the 2012 crash scene where four teens died.

Trooper Eduardo Arias "testified before this court that he was mistaken in his previous hearing testimony with respect to where he found the defendant's phone," Sullivan said in his decision. "The court believes the testimony of the trooper."

The defense argued police illegally seized the phone and said that prosecutors sought to admit as evidence archived texts that separately talked about smoking marijuana in a car and speeding on prior occasions, to show criminal intent of recklessness.

Arias testified last year that he found the phone in plain view on the ground. But he said under oath Monday that he found the phone on the driver's seat of the mangled car.

Sullivan ruled the seizure was reasonable because the phone was "in plain view in the wreckage."

Prosecutors say Beer, then 17, was speeding, driving without a license, and high on marijuana when he caused the Oct. 8, 2012, Southern State Parkway crash in Lakeview that killed four friends from Queens. The defense told jurors Beer had smoked marijuana, but said it didn't impair his driving.

Beer, 19, of South Richmond Hill, Queens, faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Sullivan also held that testimony of an off-duty NYPD detective who saw Beer with what appeared to be a cellphone didn't undermine Arias' testimony.

The judge said the detective didn't see what happened to the phone after he first saw him, before Arias seized the device several hours later from the front seat of a car that "was totally destroyed and in pieces."

Nassau district attorney's office spokesman Shams Tarek said Sullivan's decision made clear there was no legal significance to a phone being found inside or outside the wreckage of a car spread across an accident scene.

"Nothing about the matter implicated an 'illegal search,' " he said in a statement.

Defense lawyer Todd Greenberg said the phone and the police search for it will be the subject of an appeal if jurors convict Beer. "I respect the judge very much. I see his legal rationale. We disagree with it," he said.

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