New York Court Affirms that Tips Called in to 911 Must Be Reliable to Justify a Warrantless Stop

In many cases, such as gun cases or drug cases, law enforcement agencies rely on the public to report criminal or suspicious activity to the police or emergency phone line. Tips received by police from the public can help an officer form reasonable suspicion that someone has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. With reasonable suspicion, police officers may be able to stop, detain, question, and search a suspect without a warrant. Because of this, tips from the public are often used by police officers to justify warrantless searches.

Although a phone-in tip can help an officer have a valid reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, the existence of a tip, particularly an anonymous tip,  is not in itself sufficient to justify performing a search without a warrant. The New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court,  recently reversed a trial court ruling that permitted an officer to search a car without a warrant based on a phoned-in tip.

The defendant from the recently decided appeal was riding in a friend’s vehicle when they were stopped by police. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the arresting officer had received a radio call from dispatch that someone in a vehicle matching the description of the van the suspect was riding was reported to be visibly brandishing a firearm. Based on the tip and the vehicle description, the police stopped the vehicle and performed a search for weapons, without consent or a warrant. After a firearm was found in the defendant’s possession, he was arrested and charged with a gun offense.

Before the defendant’s case went to trial, his attorney filed a motion to suppress the evidence that was found in the search, arguing that based on the tip alone, there was insufficient information available to the police officer for him to have reasonable suspicion to legally perform the search. Although the prosecution put on no evidence about the context of the tip or any other factors demonstrating reasonable suspicion, the defendant’s motion was denied and he faced trial on the weapons charges.

The defendant appealed the trial court’s ruling on his motion to suppress to the state Court of Appeals. On appeal, the court rejected the trial court’s ruling, finding that the prosecution put on no evidence of the circumstances surrounding the 911 recording, and made no effective argument as to why the recording was reliable enough to give the officer reasonable suspicion to perform the search without a warrant. Because the reliability of the tip was not established at the suppression hearing, the trial court should have excluded the evidence. As a result of the appellate opinion, the evidence will be excluded and the indictment against the defendant will be dismissed.

Are You Facing a New York Gun Charge?

If you or someone you know has been charged with a firearm offense in New York, the stakes are extremely high. Gun felonies can land you in jail or prison for years, even in situations where nobody was hurt by the alleged violation. If you’re facing charges, reach out to the experienced New York criminal defense attorneys at Tilem & Associates to help mount your defense. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys have decades of experience helping New Yorkers who have been accused of crimes, and with our understanding of the law, you can fight the allegations against you. Tilem & Associates represents clients charged with New York weapons crimes, as well as other felony and misdemeanor offenses. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, give us a call at 877-377-8666 or contact us through our website today.

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