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Reasonable Suspicion – Stop – Basis – Anonymous Tip

State v. Tabitha A. Sherry, 2004 WI App 207, PFR filed 11/19/04
For Sherry: Craig R. Day

Issue: Whether an anonymous tip – to “Crime Stoppers,” predicting that a particularly described car with a specified license plate would be transporting a large amount of marijuana between neighboring towns – contained sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion for a stop of the car.

Holding:

¶6. The parties suggest, and we agree, that the most apt guidance on this topic is found in two decisions of the United States Supreme Court: White and Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000). Further, we agree with the State that the primary difference between the information found sufficient in White and the information found insufficient in J.L. is that the anonymous caller in White demonstrated familiarity with the suspect, whereas the anonymous caller in J.L. did not. We conclude that police in this case possessed reasonable suspicion justifying the stop because, as in White, the anonymous caller demonstrated a familiarity with Sherry and her activities.

¶8. … The White Court acknowledged that various details predicted by the caller had not been verified by police prior to the stop. … The Supreme Court explained that the anonymous caller provided predictive information and the police verified significant aspects of that predictive information ….

¶9. In contrast, the anonymous caller in J.L. did not provide predictive information.

¶13. The anonymous caller in this case provided predictive information which, if true, demonstrated “a special familiarity with [Sherry’s] affairs.” White, 496 U.S. at 332. The general public would have had no way of knowing that Sherry would soon be leaving the Readstown area in a particular car, no way of knowing that a man might accompany Sherry on that trip, and no way of knowing that if the man did accompany Sherry he would be driving her car.1 When the Crawford County officer verified this predictive information, it was reasonable for the officer to believe that a person with access to such information also had access to reliable information about Sherry’s illegal activities.


1 The record does not specify that the caller indicated that Sherry would be leaving shortly. However, similar to the situation in Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325 (1990), we may infer that the caller provided this information because the police responded to the call by immediately setting up surveillance. See id. at 331 (“Given the fact that the officers proceeded to the indicated address immediately after the call and that respondent emerged not too long thereafter, it appears from the record before us that respondent’s departure from the building was within the timeframe predicted by the caller.”).

Ultimate result notwithstanding, the sheer stress on the predictive quality of an anonymous tip is a great improvement over the plurality’s suggestion in State v. Roosevelt Williams, 2001 WI 21, ¶42, that predictive aspects of an anonymous tip aren’t all that important in gauging reliability. If you keep in mind that the tip about Sherry was very detailed, and view the case as fact-intensive, then the fall-out might be relatively limited. One thing, though, is clear: courts aren’t going to care whether or not an anonymous tip’s data are purely innocent, only whether they are both predictive and (sufficiently) detailed.

Though the underlying circumstances are different, for a case holding that an anonymous tip which provided nothing more than the car’s description and license number was not sufficiently predictive, see State v. Powell, Ind. App. No. 55A01-0502-CR-55, 2/6/06. See also State v. Porter, 2006-Ohio-4585, ¶12 (“absent criminal or at least suspicious behavior on the part of the suspect, the mere presence of the suspect in a high crime area or an area being given “special attention” pursuant to a tip “does nothing to create reasonable suspicion in a particular case”).

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