An individual charged and convicted upon a guilty plea of a New York weapons offense recently appealed his conviction based on a constitutional violation of his rights. The accused argues that the trial court erred in failing to suppress evidence that his parole officer recovered during searching the man’s home. He argued that the search was precipitated on an uncorroborated anonymous tip. Moreover, he contended that the officers did not establish the tip’s source of knowledge or reliability.
According to the record, the appellant’s parole officer explained that he received a call through the Department of Probation that the appellant may have a firearm. The parole officer then searched the appellant’s residence and discovered a firearm wrapped in plastic underneath clothes in a closet. The court refused to review the appellant’s contention on appeal, reasoning that the accused did not raise it before the court. However, a dissenting judge explained that, in his view, the warrantless search was unlawful because it rested solely on an anonymous tip from an unidentified person.
New York is one of the few states that retain the Aguilar-Spinelli test to determine the validity of a warrantless arrest stemming from an anonymous tip or confidential informant. Under this test, law enforcement must provide the magistrate signing the warrant with reasons to support the finding that the informant is reliable and of some of the circumstances that the informant relied upon. Further, after arraignment, law enforcement must establish facts that show the anonymous tipster is reliable and credible and establish the circumstances relied upon by the tipster. Despite this test, there is limited guidance on when a confidential informant or anonymous tipster should be deemed “reliable.” Lower courts rarely find anonymous tipsters reliable in the absence of predictive information.