In USA v. Freeman, the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled last week that the credibility of an anonymous 911 caller has to be established before someone may be investigated or arrested on basis of the report. The 2nd Circuit overturned the conviction of Joseph Freeman, who was arrested for carrying a concealed gun in 2011.
Two of the three judges on the panel found anonymous tips not backed by establishing credibility of the caller, was insufficient to establish probable cause for investigation and arrest.
Writing for the majority, Judge Rosemary Pooler wrote, “The fact that the call was recorded and that the caller’s apparent cell phone number is known does not alter the fact that the identity of the caller is still unknown, leaving no way for the police (or for the reviewing court) to determine her credibility and reputation for honesty.” This is one of the reasons why, according to the court, greater credence is given to tips from known sources than to anonymous ones.
In the instant case, following the anonymous tip, cops surrounded Freeman and tried to grasp him by his elbow, but he shrugged them off and continued walking. Then one of the cops tripped him to the ground and held him down, while others searched him and came up with a gun, allegedly found in his waistband.
The Second Circuit said, the fact that Freeman continued to walk even when signaled to stop does not constitute probable cause to stop and investigate him.
The court said that if such a line of logic was to be accepted then, a paradox would be created where persons who cannot ordinarily be stopped by the police “can be stopped if they refuse to stop.”
The court also made it clear that the circumstances of each case determine the course of action to be followed and there is a great difference between an anonymous report of an assault in progress and an anonymous report of general criminality. The necessity to “to act on reports of an emergency situation without delay” is quite different from the instant case.