529 U.S. 266 (2000), 98-1993, Florida v. J. L.

Docket Nº:Case No. 98-1993
Citation:529 U.S. 266, 120 S.Ct. 1375, 146 L.Ed.2d 254, 68 U.S.L.W. 4236
Party Name:FLORIDA v. J. L.
Case Date:March 28, 2000
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 266

529 U.S. 266 (2000)

120 S.Ct. 1375, 146 L.Ed.2d 254, 68 U.S.L.W. 4236

FLORIDA

v.

J. L.

Case No. 98-1993

United States Supreme Court

March 28, 2000

Argued February 29, 2000

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA

Syllabus

After an anonymous caller reported to the Miami-Dade Police that a young black male standing at a particular bus stop and wearing a plaid shirt was carrying a gun, officers went to the bus stop and saw three black males, one of whom, respondent J. L., was wearing a plaid shirt. Apart from the tip, the officers had no reason to suspect any of the three of illegal conduct. The officers did not see a firearm or observe any unusual movements. One of the officers frisked J. L. and seized a gun from his pocket. J. L., who was then almost 16, was charged under state law with carrying a concealed firearm without a license and possessing a firearm while under the age of 18. The trial court granted his motion to suppress the gun as the fruit of an unlawful search. The intermediate appellate court reversed, but the Supreme Court of Florida quashed that decision and held the search invalid under the Fourth Amendment.

Held:

An anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun is not, without more, sufficient to justify a police officer's stop and frisk of that person. An officer, for the protection of himself and others, may conduct a carefully limited search for weapons in the outer clothing of persons engaged in unusual conduct where, inter alia, the officer reasonably concludes in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons in question may be armed and presently dangerous. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 30. Here, the officers' suspicion that J. L. was carrying a weapon arose not from their own observations but solely from a call made from an unknown location by an unknown caller. The tip lacked sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make a Terry stop: It provided no predictive information and therefore left the police without means to test the informant's knowledge or credibility. See Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 327. The contentions of Florida and the United States as amicus that the tip was reliable because it accurately described J. L.'s visible attributes misapprehend the reliability needed for a tip to justify a Terry stop. The reasonable suspicion here at issue requires that a tip be reliable in its assertion of illegality, not just in its tendency to identify a determinate person. This Court also declines to adopt the argument that the standard Terry analysis should be modified to license a "firearm exception," under which a tip alleging an illegal gun would justify a stop and frisk even if

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the accusation would fail standard pre-search reliability testing. The facts of this case do not require the Court to speculate about the circumstances under which the danger alleged in an anonymous tip might be so great— e. g., a report of a person carrying a bomb—as to justify a search even without a showing of reliability. Pp. 269-274.

727 So.2d 204, affirmed.

Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Kennedy, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., joined, post, p. 274.

Michael J. Neimand, Assistant Attorney General of Florida, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General.

Irving L. Gornstein argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Waxman, Assistant Attorney General Robinson, and Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben.

Harvey J. Sepler argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Bennett H. Brummer and Andrew Stanton. [*]

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Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented in this case is whether an anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun is, without more, sufficient to justify a police officer's stop and frisk of that person. We hold that it is not.

I

On October 13, 1995, an anonymous caller reported to the Miami-Dade Police that a young black male standing at a particular bus stop and wearing a plaid shirt was carrying a gun. App. to Pet. for Cert. A-40 to A-41. So far as the record reveals, there is no audio recording of the tip, and nothing is known about the informant. Sometime after the police received the tip—the record does not say how long— two officers were instructed to respond. They arrived at the bus stop about six minutes later and saw three black males "just hanging out [there]." Id., at A-42. One of the three, respondent J. L., was wearing a plaid shirt. Id., at A-41. Apart from the tip, the officers had no reason to suspect any of the three of illegal conduct. The officers did not see a firearm, and J. L. made no threatening or otherwise unusual movements. Id., at A-42 to A-44. One of the officers approached J. L., told him to put his hands up on the bus stop, frisked him, and seized a gun from J. L.'s pocket. The second officer frisked the other two individuals, against whom no allegations had been made, and found nothing.

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J. L., who was at the time of the frisk "10 days shy of his 16th birth[day]," Tr. of Oral Arg. 6, was charged under state law with carrying a concealed firearm without a license and possessing a firearm while under the age of 18. He moved to suppress the gun as the fruit of an unlawful search, and the trial court granted his motion. The intermediate appellate court reversed, but the Supreme Court of Florida quashed that decision and held the search invalid under the Fourth Amendment. 727 So.2d 204 (1998).

Anonymous tips, the Florida Supreme Court stated, are generally less reliable than tips from known informants and can form the basis for reasonable suspicion only if accompanied by specific indicia of reliability, for example, the correct forecast of a subject's " 'not easily predicted' " movements. Id., at 207 (quoting Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 332 (1990)). The tip leading to the frisk of J. L., the court observed, provided no such predictions, nor did it contain any other qualifying indicia of reliability. 727 So.2d, at 207-208. Two justices dissented. The safety of the police and the public, they maintained, justifies a "firearm exception" to the general rule barring investigatory stops and frisks on the basis of bare-boned anonymous tips. Id., at 214-215.

Seeking review in this Court, the State of Florida noted that the decision of the State's Supreme Court conflicts with decisions of other courts declaring similar searches compatible with the Fourth Amendment. See, e. g., United States v. DeBerry, 76 F.3d 884, 886-887 (CA7 1996); United States v. Clipper, 973 F.2d 944, 951 (CADC 1992). We granted certiorari, 528 U.S. 963 (1999), and now affirm the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court.

II

Our "stop and frisk" decisions begin with Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). This Court held in Terry:

"[W]here a police officer observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his

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experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous, where in the course of investigating this behavior he identifies himself as a policeman and makes reasonable inquiries, and where nothing in the initial stages of the encounter serves to dispel his reasonable fear for his own or others' safety, he is entitled for the protection of himself and others in the area to conduct a carefully limited search of the outer clothing of such persons in an attempt to discover weapons which might be used to assault him." Id., at 30.

In the instant case, the officers' suspicion that J. L. was carrying a weapon arose not from any observations of their own but solely from a call made from an unknown location by an unknown caller. Unlike a tip from a known informant whose reputation can be assessed and who can be held responsible if her allegations turn out to be fabricated, see Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 146-147 (1972), "an anonymous tip alone seldom demonstrates the informant's basis of knowledge or veracity," Alabama v. White, 496 U.S., at 329. As we have recognized, however, there are situations in which an anonymous tip, suitably corroborated, exhibits "sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make the investigatory stop." Id., at 327. The question we here confront is whether the tip pointing to J. L. had those indicia of reliability.

In White, the police received an anonymous tip asserting that a woman was carrying cocaine and predicting that she would...

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