Police Search Based on an Anonymous Tip In Virginia

In McGee v. Commonwealth, 25 Va. App. 193, 487 S.E.2d 259 (1997), police officers received a tip from an anonymous informant that a "black male wearing a white t-shirt, black shorts, and white tennis shoes" was selling drugs on a particular street corner. Three uniformed and armed police officers were dispatched to the area in two marked police cruisers. One of the officers approached McGee and "stated to him that I had received a call that he was on this corner selling drugs and that he matched the description" of the individual who had been reported as selling drugs. The officer then requested permission from McGee to "pat him down." McGee stood and extended his arms in front of him with both fists clenched. Believing that McGee might be concealing a weapon in his closed fists, the officer asked him to open his hands. McGee was holding money, a torn ziplock bag, and a "little piece of white substance." The officers arrested McGee and, in a search conducted incident to the arrest, the officer found twenty-five bags containing crack cocaine in McGee's trousers. The Court held that McGee was illegally seized when the three officers approached him on the porch and told him that they had a report that he was "on the corner selling drugs and that he matched the description." The Court found that the encounter was not consensual. The Court stated that "when the police expressly inform an individual that they have received information that the individual is engaging in criminal activity, the police 'convey a message that compliance with their requests is required,' Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 435, 115 L. Ed. 2d 389, 111 S. Ct. 2382 (1991), and 'that failure to cooperate would lead only to formal detention.'" McGee, 25 Va. App. at 200, 487 S.E.2d at 262. The Court held that "when a police officer confronts a person and informs the individual that he or she has been specifically identified as a suspect in a particular crime which the officer is investigating, that fact is significant among the 'totality of the circumstances' to determine whether a reasonable person would feel free to leave." Id.