CONTACT: MELVIN O. SHAW
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0010; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: March 29, 2000
Tomkovicz: Supreme Court made correct ruling on search, seizure case
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Tuesday's 9-0 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court limiting
police officers' authority to conduct searches and seizures does not change
the Fourth Amendment law which already bans such police actions, says James
Tomkovicz, University of Iowa College of Law criminal law professor. Instead,
he says, the court's ruling in The State of Florida v. J.L. affirms previous
court rulings that say that in the absence of significant corroboration, searches
and seizures based on anonymous tips are unconstitutional.
"The decision does not change the law. An anonymous tip, standing alone
with minimal corroboration, is not a reliable enough basis for stopping and
frisking a citizen. Police are no more restricted after "J.L." than
they were under the controlling precedents of Terry v. Ohio and Alabama v.
White," says Tomkovicz.
The court said Miami police unlawfully stopped and frisked a Miami youth
in 1998 for illegal possession of a firearm by a minor when they acted on
a caller's anonymous tip about a youth carrying a concealed weapon.
Tomkovicz was enlisted by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
to write an amicus curiae or friend of the court brief in support of the respondent,
known in court documents only by his initials. Six other organizations also
joined the brief.
"Privacy and liberty are not cost-free. The Supreme Court's ruling
in J.L. informs police officers that there are limits to their authority and
that the end -- taking a gun out of the hands of a youth -- does not justify
the means -- unjustified invasion of privacy and dignity,'' Tomkovicz says.
Tomkovicz says he believes the court's surprising unanimity reflects a view
that the government's claim was extreme, and that a contrary result would
have done substantial damage to the rights of innumerable innocent citizens.
"The question is whether an anonymous tip
is, without more, sufficient
to justify a police officer's stop and frisk of that person. We hold that
it is not," wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the court.
Attorneys for Florida contended that police officers' safety would be threatened
if they were not given the authority to conduct such searches, according to
the reports filed by the Associated Press. Police might get more leeway "where
the reasonable expectation of Fourth Amendment privacy is diminished, such
as airports and schools," wrote Justice Ginsburg.
"Allowing such searches 'would enable any person seeking to harass
another to set in motion
an intrusive, embarrassing police search of the targeted person simply by
placing an anonymous call,' " the court said.
Tomkovicz wrote a friend of the court brief on behalf of the American Civil
Liberties Union and the Iowa Civil Liberties Union in Knowles v. Iowa. In
that 1998 case, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Newton, Iowa, police
unconstitutionally searched Patrick Knowles' car after he was pulled over
on a routine traffic stop.
For more information on the court's ruling and the case's legal issues,
contact James Tomkovicz at (319) 335-9100.