Case Involving Anonymous Police Call About a Particular Person at a Specified Location Engaging In Criminal Activity
In Commonwealth v. Hawkins, 547 Pa. 652, 692 A.2d 1068 (1997), a Philadelphia Police officer received a radio call that there was a black male with a gun standing at a particular intersection wearing a "blue cap, black jeans and a gold or brownish coat." 547 Pa. at 654, 692 A.2d 1068.
The officer arrived at the intersection three minutes after receiving the call and observed the appellant, Hawkins, who fit the description broadcast on the radio.
The police officer stopped and frisked Hawkins, discovering a gun in his waistband.
Later, at the suppression hearing, the police officer admitted that he did not know the source of the information contained in the radio call, and there was no other testimony provided at the hearing as to the basis of the information that the officer received.
Nonetheless, the suppression motion was denied, as was appellant's writ of certiorari to the Court of Common Pleas.
Our Court affirmed the denial of the suppression motion, but the Supreme Court reversed.
Justice Flaherty, writing for the plurality, said:
If the police respond to an anonymous call that a particular person at a specified location is engaged in criminal activity, and upon arriving at the location see a person matching the description but nothing more, they have no certain knowledge except that the caller accurately described someone at a particular location.
As the United States Supreme Court observed in Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 103 S. Ct. 2317, 76 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1983), the fact that a suspect resembles the anonymous caller's description does not corroborate allegations of criminal conduct, for anyone can describe a person who is standing in a particular location at the time of the anonymous call.
Something more is needed to corroborate the caller's allegations of criminal conduct.
The fact that the subject of the call was alleged to be carrying a gun, of course, is merely another allegation, and it supplies no reliability where there was none before.
And since there is no gun exception to the Terry requirement for reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, in the typical anonymous caller situation, the police will need an independent basis to establish the requisite reasonable suspicion. Hawkins, 547 Pa. at 656-657, 692 A.2d at 1070-1071.