Is It Legal to Search a Car Based on License Plate Number Received by An Anonymous Police Phone Call ?

In Commonwealth v. Wimbush, on February 13, 1993, a Pennsylvania State Police Trooper received an anonymous call at the police barracks during his 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 a.m. shift. The anonymous caller stated that a black man named Tony would be driving a white van on Piney Ridge Road and that Tony would have cocaine and marijuana in his possession. The anonymous caller gave the officer the van's license plate number. The state police checked the number and learned that the van was registered to Appellant Anthony Wimbush. After also learning where Wimbush lived, they called the police in his area to notify them and found out that Wimbush was suspected of drug activity in his county. Several officers went in separate vehicles to Piney Ridge Road and one officer saw the white van parked at a trailer. An officer watched the van and the others took positions on other parts of the road. When the van left the trailer, the observing officer contacted the others by radio. These officers followed the van and stopped it at an intersection. Another officer approached the passenger side and when he saw Wimbush reach between the bucket seats, he shined his flashlight on the van floor. The officer saw two baggies, one appearing to contain marijuana and the other containing a white powdery substance. The officer opened the door and seized the baggies. He directed Wimbush to get out of the van and gave him his Miranda rights. Another officer took Wimbush back to the barracks where Wimbush signed a consent form authorizing a search of the van. The officers found more drugs in the van. Wimbush was charged with possession of cocaine and marijuana and possession of cocaine and marijuana with intent to deliver. After a hearing, the trial court denied Wimbush's motion to suppress the alleged illegally-seized evidence. the case proceeded to a bench trial and the trial court found Wimbush guilty of the crimes charged. The court sentenced Wimbush to five to ten years in prison. On appeal, the Superior Court affirmed, finding that the trial court properly denied the motion to suppress.