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New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law
Section 397

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.


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 1. Constitutionality.

  • 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 interference.

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 section 397.

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