Anonymous Tip Supreme Court Cases
In Florida v. J.L. (2000) 529 U.S. 266, the Supreme Court held that an anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun is, without more, insufficient to justify a police officer's stop and frisk of that person. (Id. at p. 268.)
In that case, an anonymous caller reported that a young Black male standing at a particular bus stop and wearing a plaid shirt was carrying a gun. Officers responding to the scene saw three young Black males at the bus stop, one wearing a plaid shirt. "The officers did not see a firearm, and J.L. made no threatening or otherwise unusual movements." (Ibid.)
The officers approached the plaid-shirted suspect, ordered him to put his hands up and frisked him; they found a gun in his pocket.
The Supreme Court held the gun was inadmissible. "The officers' suspicion that J.L. was carrying a weapon arose not from any observations of their own but solely from a call made from an unknown location by an unknown caller. Unlike a tip from a known informant whose reputation can be assessed and who can be held responsible if her allegations turn out to be fabricated, . . . 'an anonymous tip alone seldom demonstrates the informant's basis of knowledge or veracity' . . . ." (J.L., supra, 529 U.S. at p. 270.)
Recognizing that in some situations an anonymous tip, suitably corroborated, may exhibit " 'sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make the investigatory stop,' " the court found no such indicia there. (Ibid.) "All the police had to go on in this case was the bare report of an unknown, unaccountable informant who neither explained how he knew about the gun nor supplied any basis for believing he had inside information about J.L." (Id. at p. 271.) The fact the tip was "corroborated" as to the "subject's readily observable location and appearance" was insufficient, because this did not show the tipster had knowledge about the concealed criminal activity. (Id. at p. 272.)
The court distinguished Alabama v. White (1990) 496 U.S. 325, which upheld a stop and detention following an anonymous tip.
In White, an anonymous informant told police that a woman carrying cocaine would leave an apartment building at a specific time and drive a described vehicle to a named motel. (Id. at p. 327.)
The police saw a woman leave the apartment building and enter a vehicle matching the informant's description, which then drove straight to the named motel. (Ibid.)
The J.L. court explained that in White, after the officers observed that the informant had accurately predicted the woman's movements, "it became reasonable to think the tipster had inside knowledge about the suspect and therefore to credit his assertion about the cocaine." (J.L., supra, 529 U.S. at p. 270.)
In J.L., by contrast, "the tip . . . lacked the moderate indicia of reliability present in White and essential to the Court's decision in that case. The anonymous call concerning J.L. provided no predictive information and therefore left the police without means to test the informant's knowledge or credibility . . . ." (Id. at p. 271.)