Thursday, January 10, 2008

Anonymous Tip Not Sufficiently Corroborated to Support Stop

US v. Reaves: Reaves was stopped in his car on the basis of an anonymous tip that a drug deal had taken place. At the time of the stop, Reaves admitted that he had a gun and was subsequently charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress the gun, arguing that the tip wasn't sufficiently corroborated to provide a basis for the stop of his car. The tip was phoned in to 911 by a person who resolutely refused to provide her name. She claimed to have witnessed what she thought was a drug deal and that one of the folks involved had a gun. The gun belonged to a person driving a "plum-colored" Mercedes, which the tipster proceeded to follow and provide updates as to the its location to the 911 dispatcher (who relayed the info to the officer who eventually made the stop). The tip was the sole basis for the stop. The district court denied the motion and Reaves was convicted after a jury trial.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed. Applying the Supreme Court's decision in Florida v. J.L (as filtered through the Fourth's decision in Perkins), the court easily concluded that the anonymous tip was not sufficiently corroborated to provide a basis for the stop, rejecting several Government arguments to the contrary. First, the court rejected the Government's argument that the caller provided "predictive" details of Reaves's route, correctly noting that "predicting" involves some time of projection into the future, not merely the passing on of information gleaned from following someone. Second, the court rejected the Government's argument that the tip gained reliability from the caller's staying on the line with the dispatcher, even though she wanted to remain anonymous. Finally, the court concluded that the fact that the caller was providing a "nearly contemporaneous" report of criminal activity was not sufficient to support the stop.

Congrats to the FPD office in Baltimore on the victory!

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