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Court rules police can immediately act on anonymous 911 tips if they're detailed enough and corroborated with other evidence

The Supreme Judicial Court today upheld a Belmont man's OUI conviction that came about due to an anonymous 911 about a swerving car on Memorial Drive by a state trooper who didn't actually see the swerving.

But in upholding John DePiero's conviction for a 2011 arrest, the state's highest court broke with the US Supreme Court, which ruled in 2014 that anonymous 911 calls are inherently legitimate as tips that can lead to a traffic stop these days because false 911 calls can be tracked. The SJC ruled that, in Massachusetts at least, unless 911 callers are first informed their calls can be tracked, an anonymous caller with malice on his mind might still make that false report if he was unaware he could be tracked.

In DePiero's case, the court ruled, that was not an issue and rejected DePiero's request to overturn his conviction because the 911 call was not enough for the warrantless traffic stop that led to his arrest.

After getting the call, a state trooper was alerted. Rather than try to catch DePiero on Mem Drive, he found his home address and drove there and then waited - and checked DePiero's record, which showed he was on probation for drunk driving.

After DePiero pulled into his driveway, the trooper turned on his blue lights and went to talk to him. "The defendant almost fell on exiting the vehicle," had "wild" hair, smelled of alcohol and failed field sobriety tests, at which point the trooper arrested him and took him to the nearest barracks for booking - and a breath test, on which he blew a 0.18, well above the drunk-driving level - the court said.

Although the court declined a request from Middlesex County prosecutors to adopt the Supreme Court's faith in anonymous 911 calls as being legitimate causes for a stop by themselves, the court upheld DePiero's stop because the caller calmly provided fairly detailed, specific information about DePiero's swerving on a specific road and because the trooper then coupled that by checking DePiero's record and finding the drunk-driving conviction.

We need not decide whether a single instance of erratic driving may not be a crime, because the information provided by the unidentified caller regarding the defendant "swerving all over the road," coupled with the information about the defendant being on probation for a similar crime, was sufficient to create a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct, permitting [the trooper] to make the stop even without seeing any suspicious behavior personally.

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Comments

Your honor, I did get piss-drunk and nearly killed everyone I drove by/had an illegal gun/shot someone/had a pound of crack in my trunk/etc, but you can't convict me because, you know, minor technicalities! Neener neener neener!

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They upheld his conviction.

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But the fact that the perp is even allowed to attempt to get the charges tossed based on a minor technicality even though it is known that he was piss-drunk is nonetheless ree-effin-diculous.

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Defendants should not be allowed to appeal verdicts against them.

Or conversely,

Prosecutors should be the only people to decide the admissibility of evidence.

Honestly, I would not want to live in a society where an anonymous accusation against me is the basis of criminal changes.

That said, it was the right decision. And I am glad the guy got convicted.

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Anonymous accusation of you chopping up your neighbors and stuffing them in your freezer should by all means be used as a basis for criminal charges if cops do in fact find your neighbors on your freezer. No offense, but having charges tossed on some technicality after it has been confirmed that you are in fact the perp is innocent until proven guilty taken way too far. "My client did it but you can't charge him because the cop did not cross every single T on the report" should not be allowed as a basis for an appeal.

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You read the story, right?

The appeals process exists to ensure due process is being processed. In this case, in the end the tip wasn't what got the guy convicted, it was the cops observing the guy at home. The tip about the neighbors in my freezer might be probable cause, but not proof that I killed the people per se. What if you were charged with a motor vehicle violation based on an anonymous tip, you would probably appeal based on that, too.

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He was not even disputing his drunk driving, he wanted the conviction overturned based on a technicality even though he was 100% guilty. That's like you not disputing all those dead bodies in your freezer with your DNA all over them are your handiwork but demanding they're stricken from evidence because screaming and chainsaw noises coming from your house at weird hours were not enough of a probably cause for cops to search your house. That technicality bullshit really needs to end - no one should not be allowed to waste taxpayer dollars on this sort of BS appeals.

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You don't seem to know how the justice and appellate system works. The SJC must have seen that there was some merit to the appeal, since they allowed it. Now there is a body of case law about anonymous driving tips to police.

The justice system is there for both defendants and plaintiffs/prosecutors. The guy's conviction stands. What's your problem?

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"911 emergency - this call is recorded and tracked - what is the nature of your emergency?"

I'm curious - did anyone out there in the UHubberverse not presume that 911 calls are tracked?

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I wouldn't presume that anything but a landline is tracked.

When I called in a porch fire that I saw flare up as I biked home from work one day, I had to give very specific information, which was tricky since I was near a town border. I managed to get it right and get help sent, but it was clear that they did not know who I was nor where I was.

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But this was an issue that the defense lawyer should have raised before or during the original trial.

And therein lies the biggest problem with our appeals system - lawyers who take the attitude "I won't bother to mention this issue, because if I lose, I can always file an appeal afterwards."

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The bigger issue was that this was not settled law - hence the request that the SJC settle it.

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This one allows police to act on a anon 911 call for a criminal tip

http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/456/456mass238.html

This one does not allow one:

http://masscases.com/cases/sjc/409/409mass16.html

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