New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law
The following is the complete text of section 397 of the New York
State vehicle and traffic law. This section governs the use of
mobile scanners in motor vehicles. Following the statute is a brief
summary of the case law relevant to this section.
397. EQUIPPING MOTOR VEHICLES WITH RADIO RECEIVING SETS CAPABLE OF
RECEIVING SIGNALS ON THE FREQUENCIES ALLOCATED FOR POLICE USE.
A person, not a police officer or peace officer, acting pursuant to
his special duties, who equips a motor vehicle with a radio receiving
set capable of receiving signals on the frequencies allocated for
police use or knowingly uses a motor vehicle so equipped or who in
any way knowingly interferes with the transmission of radio messages
by the police without having first secured a permit to do so from the
person authorized to issue such a permit by the local governing body
or board of the city, town or village in which such person resides,
or where such person resides outside of a city, or village in a
county having a county police department by the board of supervisors
of such county, is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not
exceeding one thousand dollars, or imprisonment not exceeding six
months, or both. Nothing in this section contained shall be
construed to apply to any person who holds a valid amateur radio
operator's license issued by the federal communications commission
and who operates a duly licensed portable mobile transmitter and in
connection therewith a receiver or receiving set on frequencies
exclusively allocated by the federal communications commission to
duly licensed radio amateurs.
Annotated Case Law
- People v. McGee, 1978, 97 Misc.2d 360, 411 N.Y.S.2d 514.
- Ruled that section 397 is constitutional and not a preemption of
an act of Congress.
2. Legal Purpose.
- People v. McGee, op. cit.
Stated that the rationale for the statute was to prevent criminals from monitoring
police broadcasts in their automobiles, prior to or after the commission of a crime.
It further stated that the statue protects police radios from jamming and other
3. Definition of Radio Receivers.
- People v. Moore, 1978, 92 Misc.2d 807, 401 N.Y.S.2d 440.
- People v. Faude, 1976, 88 Misc.2d 434, 388 N.Y.S.2d 562.
These two cases established that radar detectors used to avoid
police speed traps were not radio receivers because they could not
translate the radar signals into a comprehensible form.
- People v. Verdino, 1974 78 Misc.2d 719, 357 N.Y.S.2d 769.
This critical case established that the statue applies to any
radio that is capable of receiving police signals whether or not
the radio was actually being operated. In this case Verdino was
caught with a scanner that operated from the cigarette lighter but
was not plugged in at the time he was stopped. The court ruled
that the radio was still "capable" of receiving signals thus
making it illegal.
4. Issuance of Permits.
- 1975, Op.Atty.Gen (Inf.) 311.
The Attorney General issued an opinion that county boards can
designate a person to issue permits only in counties that have a
county police department established by a county charter.
5. Confiscated Equipment.
- 1976, Op.Atty.Gen. (Inf.) 255.
The Attorney General issued the opinion that a confiscated radio
is not contraband and must be returned to the individual in
original condition even if that person has been convicted under