• North Carolina Criminal Law | Case Law on Anonymous Tips
  • May 8, 2012
  • Law Firm: Matheson Law Office PLLC - Raleigh Office
  • Hopefully, the majority of Americans will never be suspected of Criminal Activity which would lead to Police intervention. Regardless, it is important to know that limitations of what information the Police Officers can act on in order to stop in individual and search them. In North Carolina where I am a Raleigh DWI Attorney and a Raleigh Criminal Attorney, if you are charged with a North Carolina Felony, North Carolina Misdemeanor, or North Carolina Driving While Intoxicated this article applies. Anonymous tips can lead a Police Officer to temporarily detain an individual to ascertain whether the criminal activity alleged is in fact occurring or has occurred. For these reasons, this article will discuss what the United States Supreme Court has laid out as requirements in order for a Police Officer to act on an anonymous tip in Florida v. J.L.

    Florida v. J.L. was a case involving an anonymous tip given regarding a juvenile at a bus stop. The tip alleged that a young black man with a plaid shirt at the bus stop was carrying a concealed gun. The Police Officer went to the bus stop and observed three young black men, one with a plaid shirt. Without having observed any criminal activity, the Police Officer temporarily detained the individuals and searched them. The Police Officer did recover a gun from the young man in the plaid shirt. The case was dismissed at Trial Court due to the fact that the gun was discovered by an unreasonable search and seizure. The Florida Court of Appeals court overturned the lower court, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the Trial Court. The case was appealed up to the United States Supreme Court who found, in an unanimous decision, that the search and seizure was unreasonable in violation of the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution.

    What the Court held was, that in order for the Police to act on an unanimous tip, there is certain information that is necessary to corroborate the tip. The tip not only must accurately describe the individual, but it must also accurately predict future activity of the subject as well as be accurate in its assertion of potential criminal activity. The justification for this would be that, those that would have that amount of information have a higher degree of believability in the tip that they provide.

    I'm sure some would argue that the Police should have a lower standard, not a higher one, when it comes to trying to prevent criminal activity by utilizing anonymous tips. However, what must be considered is how easily such a lower standard could be abused. Anyone, without discretion, could call in a tip on anyone else with just a description and accusation of crime and cause the individual to be harassed by the Police while wasting valuable police resources. Therefore, this standard set by the Supreme Court in Florida v. J.L. is an equal balance of assisting Police in their duty to prevent crime while attempting to uphold fundamental rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

    In a previous article, I discussed the Terry Stop and what limitations there are on a Police Officer's use of the 'Stop and Frisk.' This article is written to supplement the 'Terry' article.

    For information regarding your specific case, speak with a local criminal attorney.

    Disclaimer - Information and advice offered in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is specific to North Carolina law. The viewing, receipt and/or exchange of information from this article does not constitute an Attorney-Client Relationship. For assistance regarding your particular legal question speak with an Attorney practicing in the field from which your questions derives.