Do Anonymous 911 Calls Justify A Search And Seizure

By Michael Joseph on November 19, 2013

The big fight and what the entire case centers on in many drug and weapons cases in New York is whether the stop and police search was lawful. While our White Plains criminal defense lawyers have won numerous suppression hearings, we also know that trial level criminal courts often either disregard the law or deliberately misinterpret and bend the law to try and justify a search, and probable cause for the arrest. The Second Circuit in a recent decision revered a conviction finding that the officers lacked reasonable suspicion based upon 911 calls.

It is well recognized Fourth Amendment Law that police may only stop someone when they have reasonable suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity is occurring and the reasonable suspicion must be based upon facts, not on suspicion or a hunch. Although many searches and arrests are based upon hunches and speculation by the police, and then facts are fabricated later. The Courts have also recognized just because drugs or a gun or other evidence of criminal activity is discovered that does not establish retroactive justification because events that occur after a stop cannot contribute to the analysis of whether there was reasonable suspicion to warrant the stop in the first place.

In U.S. v. Freeman, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that anonymous 911 tips, without further corroboration by the police to demonstrate that the tip has sufficient indicia of reliability, are insufficient to provide the reasonable suspicion necessary for a valid stop. The Court went on to note that even when the anonymous tip proved accurate information as to the individual’s appearance and location, this is not enough. The Court recognized that anonymous tips are more problematic than other complaints because they lack the ability to assess the credibility and reputation for honesty of the tipper and the inability to hold the informant accountable for false reporting.

The Court in Freeman suppressed evidence where the 911 caller accurately identified the person who was arrested, but the Court held that this information only shows who the accuser intends to accuse, it doesn’t establish reliable information of criminality. Likewise, the Court recognized that Freeman’s behavior when approached did not justify the stop because an individual approached by the police need not answer any question put to him; indeed, he may decline to listen to the questions at all and may go on his way. He may not be detained even momentarily without reasonable, objective grounds for doing so; and his refusal to listen or answer does not, without more, furnish those grounds.

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