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An anonymous tip alone is not enough to provide the reasonable suspicion to justify a search and seizure, the New York Court of Appeals said Thursday in two criminal cases. In overturning the Appellate Division, 3rd Department, and affirming the 2nd Department, the judges in Albany, N.Y., relied on a 2-year-old U.S. Supreme Court case, Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266. In that case, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that an anonymous tip must be backed by some indication that the information is reliable if it is to serve as the basis for a stop-and-frisk. People v. William II, 67, and People v. Luis Rodriguez, 81, both deal with the circumstances under which a tip can justify a seizure. The 3rd Department case, William II, stems from a drive-by shooting in Ithaca, N.Y., in August 1999. An anonymous caller informed local police that one of the culprits was an armed Dominican named Will who could be found outside a particular delicatessen in the company of two white males. Officers investigated, and found a man matching that description in the delicatessen parking lot. Will Cruz, the target of the tip, was frisked, and the two males with him were asked to submit to a frisk. William II, one of the three males in the parking lot, fled. He was carrying a backpack, the only item any of the suspects had that could conceal a gun. Police officers chased William II down a streambed and arrested him at gunpoint. In the backpack they found marijuana and about $2,000 cash, but no weapon. Ultimately, William II pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal possession of marijuana and was sentenced as a youthful offender to five years probation. The 3rd Department, by a 3-2 vote, upheld the conviction. The other case, People v. Rodriguez, involved a man convicted of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon. New York City police officers had received a tip that a person in a particular area and described as a light-skinned Hispanic wearing a checkered shirt and jeans was carrying a gun. About two hours later, police saw Luis Rodriguez, who appeared to fit the description. They observed Rodriguez get into the back seat of a car and followed the vehicle. After police activated their siren, the vehicle pulled over, and Rodriguez was seen tossing a gun from the car window. The 2nd Department reversed the conviction. In Thursday’s opinion, the Court of Appeals said reasonable suspicion was lacking in both cases. Judge Howard A. Levine, writing for the court, reiterated that “where a police encounter is not justified in its inception, it cannot be validated by a subsequently acquired suspicion.” In the William II matter, Levine said the tip did not even identify the defendant. Rather, it identified Cruz, and police had no reason to suspect that Cruz had given William II the weapon. In Rodriguez, the Court said that the physical description of the defendant alone “could not provide reasonable suspicion to stop the car.” Appearing in William II were Charles Guttman of Ithaca for the defendant and Tompkins County Assistant District Attorney Dale A. Worrall for the prosecution. In Rodriquez, Jill Gross-Marks of Queens submitted for the prosecution, and Kerry M. Elgarten of the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan for the defendant.

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