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Troopers had the right to search vehicle based on anonymous call the driver had pointed a gun at her in an Expressway road rager, court rules

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that prosecutors can use a pellet gun found in a man's Jeep as evidence against him when he goes on trial for an alleged case of road rage on I-93.

Anthony Manha's attorney had sought to have the evidence tossed - and to have his arrest ruled illegal - arguing an anonymous call from another motorist did not provide enough probable cause for state troopers to pull him over and search his vehicle without a warrant on the southbound side of the Expressway on July 9, 2012.

But the state's highest court said that even anonymous calls can be used for emergency searches if the caller provides enough details and enough hints that the complaint is legitimate. In this case, the court said, the caller was able to provide everything from the Jeep's license plate to the race of the driver. Plus, she was reporting something pretty serious - another driver pointing a gun at her. And, the court continued, she agreed to stay on the line as troopers chased down Manha:

First, the 911 caller was the alleged victim of the assault, and stayed on the line while the information was relayed to the trooper on patrol. A 911 caller who is willing to stay on the line after reporting a crime perpetrated against her is likely willing to be identified. A caller who is making a false report is less likely to prolong his or her exposure to charges by remaining on the line with law enforcement.

And once the troopers had enough evidence of her potential veracity, they had the right to stop Manha, pat frisk him and do a "protective search" of the parts of his vehicle where he might be able to reach for a weapon, because of the potential risk to public and their safety if he really did have a gun.

A trooper found what turned out to be a pellet gun in the rear compartment of the Jeep.

PDF icon Complete ruling104.63 KB