Can An Anonymous Police Tip May Furnish Reasonable Suspicion for a Drug Arrest ?
In Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 110 L. Ed. 2d 301, 110 S. Ct. 2412 (1990), a police officer received a telephone call from an anonymous person stating that White would be leaving a specified apartment at a particular time in a brown Plymouth station wagon with a broken taillight; that she would be going to a specified motel; and that she would be in possession of about an ounce of cocaine inside a brown attache case.
After arriving outside the apartment building, the officer and his partner observed White leave the building - with nothing in her hands - and enter a station wagon similar to the one described.
The officers followed the vehicle as it proceeded along the most direct route towards the specified motel and stopped it before it reached the motel.
After receiving permission to conduct a search, the officers found a brown attache case.
Upon request, White provided the combination to the lock.
The officers found marijuana inside and placed White under arrest.
A subsequent search revealed cocaine in her purse.
After White was tried and convicted of several possession charges, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals determined that the officers lacked the reasonable suspicion necessary under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889, 88 S. Ct. 1868 (1968), to justify the initial investigatory stop of respondent's vehicle; therefore, the marijuana and cocaine were deemed fruits of an unlawful detention.
The Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that White's motion to suppress the evidence should have been granted and reversed her conviction.
The Supreme Court of Alabama denied the State's petition for a writ of certiorari.
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari in order to resolve a conflict in the state and federal courts "over whether an anonymous tip may furnish reasonable suspicion for a stop." 517 Pa. at 328.
The United States Supreme Court noted that, similar to determinations of probable cause, reasonable suspicion determinations are considered under the "totality of the circumstances - the whole picture." Id. at 330, citing United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417, 66 L. Ed. 2d 621, 101 S. Ct. 690 (1981).
However, reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than probable cause, not only in the sense that reasonable suspicion can be established with information that is different in quantity or content than that required to establish probable cause, but also in the sense that reasonable suspicion can arise from information that is less reliable than that required to show probable cause. Id.