Is a Police Pat Down Search Based on An Anonymous Phone Call Tip Legal ?
In Florida v. J.L., 529 US 266, 274 (2000), the anonymous caller reported "that a young black male standing at a particular bus stop and wearing a plaid shirt was carrying a gun."
Two officers went to the bus stop "about six minutes later and saw three black males ... one of whom was wearing a plaid shirt." (Id. at 268.)
One of the officers frisked the person wearing the plaid shirt and removed a gun from his pocket.
Central to the Supreme Court's reasoning is the reality that "unlike a tip from a known informant whose reputation can be assessed and who can be held responsible if the allegations turn out to be fabricated ... an anonymous tip alone seldom demonstrates the informant's basis of knowledge or veracity." (Id. at 270)
The Supreme Court held that "the reasonableness of official suspicion must be measured by what the officers knew before they conducted their search" and said of the tip in J.L. that "all the police had to go on ... 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 271.)
In the fact pattern of J.L., the "officers did not see a firearm, and J.L. made no threatening or otherwise unusual movements." (Id. at 268.)
Under J.L., to contain "sufficient indicia of reliability," the Supreme Court held that while "an accurate description of a subject's readily observable location and appearance ... will help the police correctly identify the person whom the tipster means to accuse, such a tip does not show that the tipster has knowledge of concealed criminal activity.
The reasonable suspicion here at issue requires that a tip be reliable in its assertion of illegality, not just in its tendency to identify a determinate person." (Id. at 272.)
Since the anonymous call in J.L., unlike the tips in Williams and White, provided no "predictive information and therefore left the police without means to test the informant's knowledge or credibility" (id. at 271), the Supreme Court affirmed the Florida Supreme Court's suppression of the gun because the anonymous tip lacked any indicia of reliability.