The State’s Reliance on Only an Anonymous 911 Tip Wasn’t Enough in a Baltimore Man’s Criminal Trial

Most people, including non-lawyers, are aware that the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. A non-lawyer, including even a very knowledgeable one, however, might not be aware of what a “Terry stop” is and what that phrase can potentially mean with regard to a warrantless search conducted by police. In many criminal cases, the difference between conviction and acquittal may be the ability to get certain important evidence excluded, which is where concepts like a Terry stop can play a very important role. This legal terminology demonstrates just how important it is to have knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense counsel on your side in order to take the law and use its protections to their fullest extent to protect your rights in your criminal case.

A recent case from Baltimore was one in which the law of searches and seizures led to the exclusion of key evidence. What would eventually become Maurice’s criminal case began with an anonymous tip phoned in to a 911 operator. The tipster said that two African-American men were selling drugs from a silver Honda Accord at a specific location in Baltimore.

Two police units responded to the scene and found two African-American men sitting in a silver Honda Accord with its engine running. The officers positioned their vehicles with one in front of the Honda and one behind it, effectively blocking it from leaving the area. The officers ordered Maurice out of the car and began to frisk him. While searching Maurice, the police found a bag of drugs tucked inside his underwear. After finding that, the police searched the car and found a handgun.

The state brought multiple charges against Maurice. At the trial, Maurice sought to keep the handgun evidence out of the case. The discovery of the gun, the defendant argued, was a result of an illegal search under the standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Terry v. Ohio. The police had only an anonymous tip phoned in to 911, and an anonymous tip, without anything additional, isn’t enough under the Terry ruling to allow for a frisk or a full-blown search.

The trial court allowed the gun into evidence, and Maurice was convicted. Maurice was, however, able to get that conviction reversed on appeal. The appeals court concluded that Maurice was correct regarding the permissibility of the search. The appeals court made it clear that using police vehicles to block the movement of a suspect’s vehicle falls within the parameters of a “Terry stop.” A valid Terry stop requires a “reasonable articulable suspicion of possible criminal activity.”

The problem for the prosecution came down to that anonymous tip. The rule is that, as the court in Maurice’s case stated, when the prosecution is in the position of relying “solely or predominately on an anonymous tip, it must provide persuasive evidence that the tip was reliable.” The state’s case against Maurice was extremely lacking with regard to evidence of the reliability of this 911 call. The court provided a partial blueprint for how prosecutors should proceed in cases relying heavily on anonymous 911 tips. The court explained that the state should “when relying on an anonymous 911 tip, … produce the recording (or explain its absence) and give the suppression court the ability to listen to the conversation – all the information supplied by the caller and not just what the police dispatcher relayed to the patrol officers – in order to make a more informed judgment regarding its reliability.”

The flip side of these instructions is that, when the state doesn’t, that may entitle a defendant to argue successfully for the suppression of key evidence, as Maurice was ultimately able to do in his case.

Whether your case turns on the validity of a Terry stop or some other element of criminal law, it helps to have knowledgeable counsel representing you. Skilled Maryland drug crime attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been providing effective defense representation to the accused in Maryland for many years. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

Court of Special Appeals: Maryland Police Officer Went Too Far in Conducting Warrantless Search, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 7, 2017

Maryland Man’s Conviction Overturned Because Police Conducted Illegal ‘Frisk’ Search, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Sept. 8, 2016


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