An Anonymous Phone Call Can Give Police Reasonable Suspicion to Detain a Person

Aug 15, 2014

In United States v. Edwards, 2014 WL 3747130 (9th Cir. July 31, 2014) the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit addressed two issues: the first one was whether the stop of Edwards was only an investigatory stop or a de facto arrest and the second was whether there was enough reasonable suspicion for the police to stop and detain Edwards. The facts of the case are as follows: an anonymous call to the Inglewood Police Dept said that there was a young black male shooting at passing cars and entering the “Penny” liquor store. The anonymous 911 caller described the suspect as being 5’7’’ to 5’9’’ and wearing a black jacket and khaki pants. Police arrived at the described location and 75 feet away from the liquor store they saw Edwards who was 5’11’’ wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and grey pants. The police held Edwards at gunpoint and handcuffed him. They conducted a pat search of his person and discovered a .22 caliber handgun. The caller did not want to participate further in the investigation and wished to stay anonymous. Edwards pled guilty (a conditional plea, which allowed him to appeal) to a felon inpossession of a firearm. Edwards appealed his guilty plea on the grounds that the police action amounted to a de facto arrest for which they had no probable cause and that the anonymous call did not give the police enough reasonable suspicion to detain him. Edwards disputed that the anonymous 911 call provided the officers with sufficient information to give them reasonable suspicion to support the investigatory stop in the first place.

Arrest or Detention at Time of Pat Search A de facto arrest is where a detention turns into an arrest based on law enforcement’s actions that are more intrusive than necessary for an investigative stop. The court used the “totality of the circumstances” test to determine that Edwards’ detention at the time of the pat search did not amount to a de facto arrest. The Court previously “permitted the use of intrusive means to effect a stop where the police have information that the suspect is currently armed or the stop closely follows a violent crime. Under such circumstances, holding a suspect at gunpoint, requiring him to go to his knees or lie down on the ground, and/or handcuffing him will not amount to an arrest.” FN1

Reasonable Suspicion for a Detention The United States Supreme Court previously held that an anonymous tip must “exhibit sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make the investigatory stop.” FN2. The Supreme Court stated that an anonymous tip has sufficient indicia of reliability when: (FN3) (1) The caller claimed eyewitness knowledge of the alleged dangerous activity, lending “significant support to the tip’s reliability” (2) The caller made a statement about an event “soon after perceiving that event,” which is “especially trustworthy,” (3) The caller used 911, which “has some features that allow for identifying and tracing callers, and thus provide some safeguards against making false reports with immunity, (4) The caller created reasonable suspicion of an ongoing and dangerous crime rather than “an isolated episode of past recklessness.”

Based on this analysis, Ninth Circuit determined the anonymous call in Edwards’ case passed the four-part test. Therefore, the Court concluded that the police did have enough reasonable suspicion to stop and detain Mr. Edwards and affirmed his conviction, holding that “the officers properly conducted an investigatory stop and had reasonable suspicion to do so.” It will be interesting to see how non-emergency situation cases play out in light of this ruling.

For assistance with motions to suppress, contact Jayne Law Group, P.C.

1. United States v. Miles, 247 F.3d 1009, 1012 (9th Cir.2001) 2. Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 326–27, 110 S.Ct. 2412, 110 L.Ed.2d 301 (1990). 3. Navarette v. California, ––– U.S. ––––, 134 S.Ct. 1683, 188 L.Ed.2d 680 (2014)