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Tips called in to 911 must be reliable to justify a warrantless stop

| Oct 20, 2021 | Criminal Defense

In most drug or gun cases, law enforcement agencies often rely on the public to provide information on a criminal’s suspicious activities.

Police often receive these tips when concerned residents call them in via emergency phone lines, like 911. 

Such tips received from the public can lead to police investigators forming a reasonable suspicion that someone has committed or is in the process of committing a crime. Usually, with such reasonable suspicion, the police may feel justified in performing a warrantless search.

Even though a phoned-in tip can help a law enforcement officer to form a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is ongoing, a New York judge recently asserted that such a tip is not sufficient by itself to perform a search without a warrant. A recent New York Court of Appeals ruling reversed a lower court one that allowed an officer to search a vehicle without a warrant based on a mere phone tip.

According to the case, the defendant was riding in a friend’s car when the police stopped them. The arresting officer had gotten a radio call from dispatch that an individual in a vehicle matching the description of the suspect’s van was reportedly brandishing a firearm. Acting on the tip, the officer stopped the car, searched it without a warrant or consent and found the gun. The defendant was subsequently arrested and charged with a weapons offense.  

His motion to suppress the evidence found in the search was successful in the Court of Appeal, which held that the tip’s reliability was not established, thus excluding the evidence.

Are you facing gun charges?

Gun charges are very grave, and a lot is at stake. However, you can increase the chances of a desirable outcome by mounting a well-devised defense strategy. Learning more about what the law says may go a long way in protecting your legal rights.