Criminal Defense in Orange County

Search Based on An Anonymous Tip

The United States Supreme Court has issued a ruling regarding search and seizure based upon an anonymous tip.

Many anonymous tips received by police are bolstered by independent police observation. An example of this is where a call of erratic driving is received and, upon sighting the vehicle, the officer also sees erratic driving. In this case, there is independent probable cause based upon actual police observation.

Anonymous tips on their own, often times, do not carry sufficient indicia of reliability to justify a stop.

In Navarrete v. California , the United States Supreme Court held that the anonymous tip had sufficient indicia of reliability because the reporting citizen indicated she had been run off the road by a specific vehicle. She claimed an eyewitness basis of knowledge and a very short time elapsed between the incident and the report. The court also found that the tip further created a reasonable suspicion of drunk driving based upon the above; the officer's failure to observe additional suspicious conduct did not dispel the reasonable cause suspicion.

The court is often unimpressed with anonymous tip information. There is always a danger of a false tipster. Therefore, the important questions essentially are, "does the caller possess sufficient intimate knowledge of an incident, can he/she describe actual conduct rather than mere conclusory allegations and is it near in time (e.g., between observation and calling 911)? Also, is the conduct possibly dangerous, such as being run off the road, thereby creating a public safety consideration?

It is important to know the court considered this a close case. In order to preclude a flood of searches based on "someone saw something" information. I believe the court will try to limit the extent of this type of reasonable cause. If one factor of this observation was missing, I do not believe the court would have rendered this verdict.

Contact the law office of Barney B. Gibbs if you or a loved one has been charged with a crime. Put his 30 years of experience and knowledge to work for you.