Can The Police Stop You Based On An “Anonymous” Tip?
Before the police can detain you, they need “reasonable suspicion” to suspect you of a crime. For instance, if an officer observes you breaking a traffic law, that in and of itself is usually enough to create reasonable suspicion to initiate a stop. But the officer may also rely on information supplied by someone else to form reasonable suspicion.
11th Circuit Upholds Florida Defendant’s Federal Weapons Conviction
Take this recent case from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, United States v. Martinez. This case began when a police officer was driving on the Florida Turnpike. The officer observed a gray Kia sedan flash its lights and pull alongside his car. The officer observed that the Kia’s driver was a man in his 60s and “visibly frightened.”
The Kia driver told the officer that there was a white car traveling directly behind him. The Kia driver said the driver of the white car had “just pointed a gun” at him. The officer considered the Kia driver’s information reliable, even though he never obtained any identification or contact information. Instead, the officer proceeded to locate the white car identified by the Kia driver.
This second driver–the defendant–did not immediately respond to the officer’s signal to pull over. When the defendant eventually did pull over, the police searched his car and found a gun underneath the steering wheel. Federal prosecutors later charged the defendant with illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
The defendant pleaded guilty to the charge but reserved his right to appeal the legality of the search of his car. Essentially, the defendant argued the police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him based solely on the “anonymous” tip from the Kia driver. The trial court found the tip sufficient and ruled the search lawful.
The 11th Circuit agreed. According to the United States Supreme Court, police can rely on an anonymous tip when the information contains “sufficient indicia or reliability.” Here, the Court of Appeals said there were a number of factors supporting the reliability of the Kia driver’s statements to the officer:
- The tip was “face-to-face,” as opposed to over the phone, which gave the officer “an opportunity to observe the demeanor and perceived credibility of the informant”;
- The Kia driver reported something that he “witnessed personally” and which had “just happened”;
- The driver also “identified the specific car involved,” as opposed to giving a vague description.
The 11th Circuit also noted that the defendant’s failure to immediately stop and pull over when signaled by the officer weighed in favor of a “finding of reasonable suspicion.” This also justified the search of the defendant’s car for weapons. As such, the 11th Circuit said the defendant’s conviction was valid.
Contact Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer Jose Baez Today
When a police officer signals you to pull over, it is important to comply without unnecessary delay. Remember, even in a traffic stop situation, you do not have to answer any questions beyond giving the officer your name, driver’s license, and insurance information. But you should never try to evade the police or make any sudden movements that might be misinterpreted as “suspicious” behavior.
And if you are placed under arrest and need advice from an experienced Orlando criminal defense attorney, contact the Baez Law Firm today.