In 2011, a reservoir patrol officer received a BOLO for a vehicle that was driving erratically and possibly flashing a badge of some sort. The officer did not know who made the call and to his knowledge it was anonymous and not corroborated. The officer saw the vehicle and observed it for a short period of time but he did not see any illegal activity.
The car was then stopped and Carl Cook was arrested and convicted for DUI, first offense. On appeal, Cook argues the anonymous tip was not enough for a traffic stop. MSC agreed with Cook and reversed.
Under the Fourth Amendment’s protections, police officers may detain a person for an investigatory stop when the officers have reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts which allow the officers to conclude the suspect is wanted in connection with criminal behavior.
Reasonable suspicion generally stems from one of two sources: an officer’s personal observation, or an informant’s tip. An informant’s tip may provide reasonable suspicion if accompanied by some indication of reliability; for example, reliability may be shown from the officer’s independent investigation of the informant’s information.
The U.S. Supreme Court held In Florida v. J.L., 529 US 266 (2000), that an anonymous tip identifying a subject with no predictive information or further corroboration from law enforcement was not enough to make a stop. Although that is the general rule, it should be noted that the Court did recognize that there are some circumstances where the danger alleged (person carrying a bomb) may warrant a search without the requisite showing of reliability.
This court in Eaddy found officers lacked reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle after receiving an anonymous tip stating that a man with three outstanding arrest warrants was driving a particular car.
However, in Williamson, this court denied a motion to suppress based on an anonymous tip. In Williamson, two anonymous tips stated that two men had purchased large quantities of Sudafed from Campbell’s pharmacy and had attempted to purchase Sudafed from Family Dollar store. They described the vehicle and license plate and gave the direction of the car. Police located and stopped the car at Freds, another place where Sudafed is sold.
The court noted in Williamson that in addition to direction of travel being given, retail stores typically make these types of calls and they have a vested interest in being truthful with the authorities. Also, the car stop occurred at another place that sold Sudafed.
In today’s case, one anonymous caller reported a person driving erratically and flashing what
appeared to be some type of badge at other drivers. This behavior was never observed by the officers in today’s case prior to stopping Cook. This is similar to Eaddy, where an unknown informant reported that a person with outstanding arrest warrants was in a particular car.
Like Eaddy, the officers here failed to take further action to corroborate the criminal activity reported in the tip prior to stopping Cook. Without taking further action to corroborate the criminal activity reported, the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop Cook. An accurate description of Cook’s vehicle and location is insufficient.
Permitting a stop solely on an anonymous tip such as the one here can open the door for legal stops based on tips provided by persons with intent to harass or embarrass others. To be clear, however, today’s opinion does not stand for the proposition that any anonymous tip, standing alone, will not sufficiently justify a search. For example, a report of someone intending to carry out a mass shooting would not require the same indicia of reliability as a report of an erratic driver.