©2011 Brian S. Batterton, Attorney, Legal & Liability Risk Management Institute (LLRMI.COM) CR-09-1337, 2010 Ala. Crim. App. LEXIS 96 (Decided November 5, 2010)
On November 5, 2010, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama decided C.D.M. v. Alabama [i] which involved an anonymous caller phoning in information on an armed person to the police. The facts of the case are as follows: On May 21, 2010, a police officer received a dispatch regarding an “armed person.” The specific facts were that a black male wearing dark colored jeans and a polo, school uniform-like shirt was seen entering an abandoned house on Lawson Road. The caller advised that, shortly after the male entered the house, the caller heard gunfire inside the house. Approximately two minutes after the dispatch, the officer and his partner arrived on Lawson Road to check the area. They observed a black male meeting the clothing description walking down Lawson Road approximately one or two blocks from the abandoned house. The officers noted that there was nobody else on Lawson Road at this time. The officers stopped their car and “to conduct a field interview to find out either … if [the male] was the person that was involved in that call, or if [the male] had known anything about the call, if [the male] had heard gunshots, [or] if [the male] had seen someone matching the description.” [ii] The officers asked the male, later identified as C.D.M., if he had any weapons and he replied “No.” The officers testified that they patted down (frisked) C.D.M. “for officer safety.” During the pat-down, the officers felt a pistol which they seized. In a subsequent search, the officers also found marijuana.
C.D.M. was charged in juvenile court with the pistol and marijuana. He filed a motion to suppress the evidence which was denied. C.D.M. later appealed the denial of his motion to suppress to the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama.
On appeal, C.D.M. argued that the anonymous tip alone did not provide sufficient reasonable suspicion to justify his frisk.
The Alabama court first examined the United States Supreme Court precedent on anonymous tips. They noted that The United States Supreme Court has decided two cases in the past that deal directly with whether an anonymous tip provides sufficient reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory detention. In Florida v. J.L. [iii], the police received a tip from an anonymous caller that stated that a young black, male in a plaid shirt standing at a particular bus stop was carrying a gun. Officers responded to the bus stop and found three black males, one of which was wearing a plaid shirt. Based upon the tip, the officers frisked the male in the plaid shirt and seized a gun. He was charged with concealed weapon and possessing a firearm while under eighteen. The Supreme Court held that the anonymous tip, standing alone, with no other corroborating facts, did not justify the detention and frisk of the defendant. They reasoned that the tip did not provide predictive information or any information from which the police could independently verify the complainant’s basis of knowledge or credibility.
From the above case, we see that the court requires that an anonymous tip provide some information that will show that the tipster possesses some basis of knowledge for the information provided. One way this basis of knowledge can be established occurs when a tip provides information that predicts the future actions of the suspect. This is illustrated in Alabama v. White. [iv] In White, the police received an anonymous telephone tip that Ms. White would leave her apartment at a certain time in a brown Plymouth station wagon with a broken right taillight lens and would drive to a specific motel while in possession of approximately one ounce of cocaine in a brown attaché case. The police went to the apartment complex in question and found the brown Plymouth with a broken right taillight lens. They watched the car and observed Ms. White leave her apartment and get into the car. She drove to the motel that the anonymous caller had predicted. The police stopped her based upon the tip. After receiving consent to search her car, the police found a brown attaché case. They searched it and found marijuana. In this case, the court held that based upon the totality of the circumstances, this anonymous tip provided sufficient reasonable suspicion to justify a stop of the car. The court’s rationale was that the tip provided predictive information that was corroborated by observations of the police. This predictive information shows that the tipster has inside information with the defendants affairs which shows a basis of knowledge and lends to the reliability of the information.
Thus, according to the United States Supreme Court, anonymous tips must normally provide some predictive information or information that can be corroborated in order to establish a basis of knowledge of the tipster and show the reliability of the information.
Further, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama examined a factually similar case that they decided in 2008. In B.J.C. v. Alabama [v], officers received an anonymous tip that a black male wearing a sleeveless Chicago Bulls basketball jersey, khaki pants, and a black hat was carrying a firearm at a particular location. Officers responded to the area, found the male, ordered him to the ground at gunpoint, and frisked the male while asking him if he was armed. The male denied being armed, but after the officer located a gun, the male admitted to carrying a second gun. The court of appeals held that the officers were not justified in stopping and conducting a pat-down of B.J.C. based on the anonymous tip alone.
The court of appeals, in C.D.M., then noted several relevant facts that made this case similar to both J.L. and B.J.C. First, the officer testified that he did not receive any information from dispatch regarding the identity of the caller. Second, the state did not present any evidence that the identity of the caller was known. Third, the only information that the police verified was the easily ascertainable information (the matched clothing description) and the fact that C.D.M. was near the abandoned house. Fourth, the officers did not attempt to corroborate whether C.D.M. had entered the abandoned house and/or whether shots were actually fired at that location. Fifth, the tip did not include any information that predicted the future conduct of C.D.M. (compare to the Alabama v. White where information was accurately predicted). Based on the factors above, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama held that there was no evidence that the tip presented any indicia of reliability, and as such, did not provide sufficient reasonable suspicion to justify the stop and frisk of C.D.M.
Therefore, the court of appeals reversed the denial of the motion to suppress.
Points to Remember
Anonymous tips, standing alone with no corroborating information, do not provide reasonable suspicion to justify an investigatory detention (Terry stop).
Anonymous tips that include information that accurately predicts future behavior, when observed (corroborated) by police do provide a sufficient “indicia of reliability” to establish reasonable suspicion for an investigatory detention.
The “indicia of reliability” required is based upon the “totality of the circumstances” known to the officer and the officer can also use his experience and training in establishing reasonable suspicion.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Florida v. J.L., stated that it’s rule that an anonymous tip, standing alone does not provide reasonable suspicion, may not apply in an airport or a school.
NOTE: Court holdings can vary significantly between jurisdictions. As such, it is advisable to seek the advice of a local prosecutor or legal advisor regarding questions on specific cases. This article is not intended to constitute legal advice on a specific case.
SEE RELATED ARTICLES:
[i] CR-09-1337, 2010 Ala. Crim. App. LEXIS 96 (Decided November 5, 2010)
[ii] Id. at 2
[iii] 529 U.S. 266 (2000)
[iv] 496 U.S. 325 (1990)
[v] 992 So. 2d 90 (Ala. Crim. App. 2008)