April 30, 2014
Anonymous Tips MAY Amount to Reasonable Suspicion.

There seems to be a lot of confusion as to the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding regarding anonymous tips and whether or not they are sufficient for an investigatory Terry Stop.

SCOTUS ruled in Navarette vs. California that anonymous tips amount to reasonable suspicion to stop vehicles. In the past, the court was worried that anonymous callers could unfairly target people for embarrassing searches and held that police officers could not rely on an anonymous tip to stop and search a pedestrian. However, this decision did not hold that all anonymous tips are sufficient to amount to reasonable suspicion. Within this case the court still held, “An anonymous tip alone seldom demonstrates sufficient reliability.” The “anonymous caller” in Navarette was a 911 call that “bore adequate indicia of reliability” for the officer to credit the caller’s account. By reporting that she had been run off the road by a specific vehicle, the caller necessarily claimed an eyewitness basis of knowledge. In this case, counsel for petitioners did not dispute that the reporting party identified herself by name in the 911 call recording. Because neither the caller nor the dispatcher who received the call was present at the hearing, the prosecution proceeded to treat the tip as “anonymous.”

Federal courts have established three classes of informants: identified citizen informant, anonymous informant, and known informant (being someone from criminal world who has provided previous reliable tips). These classes of informants differ than an ordinary citizen witness, as indicated below:
  • Ordinary Citizen Witness. The Tenth Circuit has held that the statement of an ordinary citizen witness is entitled to more credence than that of a known informant. “Courts are much more concerned with veracity when the source of the information is an informant from the criminal milieu rather than an average citizen in the position of a crime witness.” Easton v. Boulder (C.A.10, 1985), 776 F.2d 1441, 1449.
  • Identified Citizen informant. Federal courts have routinely credited the identified citizen informant with greater reliability. In United States v. Pasquarille (C.A.6, 1994), 20 F.3d 682, 689, for instance, the Sixth Circuit presumed the report of a citizen informant to be reliable because it was based on firsthand observations as opposed to “idle rumor or irresponsible conjecture.” An identified citizen informant may be highly reliable and, therefore, a strong showing as to the other indicia of reliability may be unnecessary: “[I]f an unquestionably honest citizen comes forward with a report of criminal activity—which if fabricated would subject him to criminal liability—we have found rigorous scrutiny of the basis of his knowledge unnecessary.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. at 213, 233–234 (1983).
  • Anonymous Informant. An anonymous informant is comparatively unreliable and his tip, therefore, will generally require independent police corroboration. Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 329 (1990). Where the tip is from an anonymous caller, the tip, standing alone, will rarely provide the reasonable suspicion necessary for an investigative stop. However, if corroborated by independent police work, that tip may be a sufficient basis for the stop.

  • Known (prior criminal) Informant. Where a tip is received from a known informant and the details of the tip are easily verifiable, that tip has greater indicia of reliability. Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143 (1972). Similar to an anonymous tip, the type should be analyzed to consider whether the tip itself has sufficient indicia of reliability to justify investigative stop.
Thus, use your common sense, experience, education, and training, in making a determination as to the credibility of a tip in deciding whether the tip contains a sufficient indicia of reliability, or if independent police corroboration is required.

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