What Evidence Do Police Need for a Search?

What Evidence Do Police Need for a Search?
Posted by FoM on February 29, 2000 at 10:26:35 PT
By Warren Richey, Staff Writer of The CSM
Source: Christian Science Monitor
Police in Miami receive an anonymous tip identifying three teenagers standing at a bus stop outside a pawn shop. The tipster says that one boy, wearing a plaid shirt, is carrying a concealed gun.Police officers arrive at the bus stop within six minutes, see the three teens, including one in a plaid shirt, and frisk all three.
The police discover a gun in the pocket of the plaid-shirted teen. He is 16, far too young to legally possess a gun in Florida, let alone a concealed handgun. But the gun charges against him are eventually thrown out by state court judges.Today, the US Supreme Court is considering whether the police acted properly by safeguarding the community from a teenager carrying a concealed pistol, or whether those same police officers violated the minor's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.It is an issue that is taking on a heightened sense of urgency in communities across the nation concerned about violent juvenile crime, including deadly assaults like the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado last year.It also comes at a time of increasing public distrust of the police and their tactics, as evidenced by the massive corruption uncovered within the Los Angeles Police Department and the recent trial of four New York policemen on charges that they gunned down an unarmed man they thought was carrying a gun.At the heart of the Miami case is the legal question of whether an anonymous tip is reliable enough to justify police frisking a suspect.The law is clear that a frisk is justified when police obtain information that supports the essence of the tip and independently bolsters a reasonable suspicion that a crime is under way.But what is not clear is whether a frisk is justified if police can only verify innocent details - such as a plaid shirt - contained in the tip.Defining Reasonable Suspicion:Such innocent details do not in any way confirm ongoing illegal activity. But some legal analysts say verifying innocent details can help support the overall veracity of the tip, and that can create enough reasonable suspicion to justify a frisk.Friend-of-court briefs have been filed in the case by various police and crime-victims organizations and the attorneys general of 33 states urging the court to overturn the Florida judges and allow such searches.On the other side, a coalition of civil libertarians, civil rights advocates, and the National Rifle Association is urging the court to uphold the Florida rulings."We have a case here that is going to test the court's willingness to stand up for the Fourth Amendment," says James Tomkovicz, a law professor and Fourth Amendment expert at the University of Iowa College of Law in Iowa City.How the high court resolves the Florida case will provide police officers with much-needed guidance in how to respond to anonymous tips.In some cases, the tip may prove false, and a hasty frisk would subject an innocent person to unwarranted embarrassment, fear, and possible injury.In other cases, police may have only moments to act to prevent a violent crime. "Officers who receive an anonymous tip that an individual of a particular description is carrying a bomb outside of a courthouse, or is concealing an automatic pistol outside a school, cannot ignore the potential threat of violence when, upon arriving at the location, they find the described individual at the scene," says the US solicitor general's brief in the case.Both the Florida Attorney General's Office and the US Justice Department are urging the justices to take what they say is a common-sense approach to the issue. Law-enforcement officials on the scene must have the flexibility to assess, on a case-by-case basis, the potential for the immediate and lethal use of a weapon by a suspect, they say.Not everyone agrees with this approach. "It isn't really an all-or-nothing choice that if you don't act now on the tip someone is going to die," says Mr. Tomkovicz. In the majority of cases, police retain the ability to observe suspects and conduct an independent investigation before moving in."The fact that a tip mentions a gun simply does not demonstrate that the tip is reliable," writes Harvey Sepler, an assistant public defender in Miami who is arguing the boy's case. He says police must investigate further to build a reasonable suspicion of a crime."Police across the country receive anonymous information every day. When those tips merit further investigation, police have little trouble determining whether or not the tip justifies a stop or arrest," Mr. Sepler says. "They may not, however, decide to start frisking people whenever the word 'gun' is used."To Squeeze or Not to Squeeze:Also today, in a second Fourth Amendment case, the Supreme Court is considering whether a federal agent violates the constitutional privacy rights of bus passengers when he squeezes soft-sided luggage in the overhead compartment in a random attempt to detect illicit drugs.Steven Bond argues that his drug-smuggling conviction should be overturned because the agent in his case had no reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or consent to squeeze his bag.The agent working at a checkpoint on the Texas-Mexico border detected a "brick-like object" in Mr. Bond's suitcase. He obtained permission from Bond to search inside the bag, where he found a 1.3-pound block of the illegal drug methamphetamine.Lawyers for the government argue that once Bond placed his bag in the common overhead compartment he no longer retained a reasonable expectation of privacy. As a result, the agent did not need a warrant to squeeze Bond's luggage while searching for contraband, they say.Published: February 29, 2000(c) Copyright 2000 The Christian Science Publishing Society.Related Articles on Searches:
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Comment #1 posted by observer on February 29, 2000 at 15:26:06 PT
Any Excuse Will Do
> What Evidence Do Police Need for a Search?Oh, whatever strikes their fancy at the time. Evidence is only needed to prove that suspects are not guilty when accused by police. This is from Drug Warriors & Their Prey (1996) :( )''. . .Our brief review of drug war effects on the Fourth Amendment shows that the following acts are considered cause to believe that the citizen is a criminal: attending high school, traveling in a Greyhound bus, being the target of an anonymous accusation. In the name of drugs, many other acts and personal attributes now indicate criminal activity and comprise a "profile" that narcotics police use to pinpoint possible drug offenders who should be detained and searched:   having a pale complexion90   having a dark complexion91   having a Hispanic appearance92   being between the ages of twenty five and thirty-five93   acting nervous94   acting calm95   carrying $100 bills96   carrying $50 bills97   carrying $20 bills98   carrying $10 bills99   carrying $5 bills100   wearing a pager101   wearing casual clothing102   wearing a black jumpsuit103   wearing clothing with a bulge in it104   wearing "a lot of gold jewelry"105   wearing perfume106   being a female who wears platform shoes107   being a female who carries a condom in her purse108   running up large electric bills109   having a heat source in a house110   having window coverings that hinder someone from peering inside a residence111   having a telephone answering machine message recorded by someone other   than the person who is the phone subscriber112   owning a dog113   having a home security system114   having a recreational motor home115   driving a rental car116   driving with an unfolded road map117   driving in a car with out-of-state license plates118   having McDonalds fast food bags on a car floor119   "scrupulous obedience to traffic laws"120   failing to twist around in a car to watch as a marked patrol car passes routinely in   the opposite direction121   "sitting very erect" in a car122   being a foreigner without friends or relatives in the United States123   being a foreigner who does not speak English124   returning home from a visit to Mexico without having bought souvenirs125   visiting for only a short time in a city where illegal drug sales occur126   flying from Los Angeles to Detroit127   flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta128   flying from Ft. Lauderdale to Atlanta129   flying from Dallas to Atlanta130   flying from Atlanta to Kansas City131   flying from Miami132   flying from Chicago133   flying from Detriot134   flying to and from New York City135   flying to and from San Juan, Puerto Rico136   flying to or from any city137   arriving at an airport and buying a ticket shortly before one's flight departs138   paying cash for airline tickets139   buying a one-way ticket140   buying a round trip ticket141   buying a first class ticket142   buying more than one ticket when the itinerary could have been served by one   ticket143   making a trip on more than one airline144   flying nonstop145   changing planes146   having no luggage claim checks affixed to your plane ticket envelopes147   carrying luggage lacking identification tags148   incompletely filling out an airline baggage identification tag149   having a cellular telephone in a suitcase150   having American Tourister luggage151   having new luggage152   having no luggage153   traveling with a companion154   traveling without a companion and meeting no one at the destination airport155   acting as if you are looking for a person you expected to meet at the destination   airport156   being among the first passengers off an airplane157   being among the last passengers off an airplane158   being among the middle group of passengers off an airplane159   arriving early in the morning160   looking at one's wristwatch161   lacking a confirmed hotel reservation162   using a telephone soon after leaving an airplane163   walking quickly164   walking slowly165   leaving an airport without loitering166   leaving an airport from an exit offering no public transportation167   leaving an airport by taxicab168   renting a motel room under a name that seems Hispanic or African-American169   renting a motel room adjoining one of a traveling companion170   using cash to pay for a motel room171   looking at a police officer172   not looking at a police officer173   "looking around at other people"174 Basically, drug warriors argue that being a citizen is sufficient cause to suspect a person of criminal conduct, thereby constricting civil liberties protections for that person. That situation is hard to distinguish from the legal status of citizens of Nazi Germany. ' ' (Richard L Miller, Drug Warriors and their Prey, 1996, pg.51-52)
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