911 Calls in Criminal Cases

Image result for 911 call system poster

I’m working on a new piece about 911 calls and their unique place in criminal law.  Interestingly, the first federal appellate decisions mentioning 911 calls in criminal cases occurred in the mid-1980s, and there were only one or two per year. But then from 2012 to 2016, no less than 47 federal criminal appeal decisions per year, on average, involved 911 calls in some form or another. Even critical Supreme Court decisions, like the reasonable suspicion standard for anonymous calls from Navarette v. California, and the Confrontation Clause analysis from Davis v. Washington, hinge on unique perceived aspects of 911 systems.

There are four major areas of law I’ve identified where 911 calls play an out-sized role: (1) reasonable suspicion from anonymous tips, (2) the emergency aid exception to the warrant requirement, (3) the Confrontation Clause, and (4) hearsay.

I’ve also identified at least six problems with courts relying on with 911 technology in its current state: (1) outdated technology reducing location ability, (2) a shocking number of hang ups or pocket dials, (3) spoofing, (4) swatting, (5) inactive phones that can still dial 911, and (6) texting.

These problems, I argue, squarely undermine judicial faith in the reliability of calls placed through the 911 system. Any thoughts are welcome.

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