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When Can Police Use Anonymous Tips?

July 10, 2019

The police must be able to demonstrate that the information supplied by a tipster is reliable.

When Can Police Use Anonymous Tips?

In many crime dramas, the police uncover wrongdoing through an anonymous call.  They then rush to the scene, arrest the suspect, and save the day.  But does it work like that in real life?  Can the police really stop you, search you or your house, or arrest you based on an anonymous tip?

As a criminal lawyer Santa Ana, CA, can explain, law enforcement requires much more than just an anonymous tip to make an arrest, stop or search a person, vehicle or home.  Under California law, there are certain standards that must be met before the police can act on information from an anonymous informant.

In the United States, we all have the right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures.  With a few exceptions, the police must have a warrant to search or seize a person or place.  A warrant must be based on probable cause, and must specifically describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

There are situations where a police officer can stop and detain a person without a warrant.  This may occur if they have a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring, and that the person that they stopped participated in the activity.

The police can stop a person based on an anonymous tip if the police have confirmed the information provided by the tipster, or verified it in some way, and/or if the information was specific or otherwise reliable. If an anonymous person calls 911 shortly after a convenience store is robbed, and describes what the suspect looks like and what he was wearing, down to the color of his shoes, that might be sufficiently specific information to allow the police to stop a person matching that description.  If the police take the extra step of verifying the information by asking the clerk for a description of the robber, then the courts would likely uphold a stop of a person on that basis.

The same standard applies to an anonymous tip related to a vehicle.  As a criminal lawyer Santa Ana, CA can explain, the police can use that information if they have confirmed or verified it, and/or if the information is reliable.  For example, if a driver reports a vehicle on the road driving erratically, and is able to describe its location, the direction that it is driving and give its description, plus license plate number, that would likely be sufficient to stop the car on suspicion of driving under the influence.

However, because courts have recognized that we have an increased expectation of privacy in our homes, there is a heightened standard for anonymous tips to qualify for a search warrant.  In addition to the above two factors, a law enforcement officer must also prove sufficient information to conclude that the informant is honest, and/or facts indicating that the information is reliable and the basis of that knowledge.  An anonymous information must have actually witnessed the alleged criminal activity in order for his or her tip to be sufficient for a search warrant.  If a person just saw suspicious activity, but didn't actually witness a crime, then an anonymous tip won’t be enough for a search warrant.

If you have been arrested for a crime based on an anonymous tip, then you will need an aggressive criminal lawyer Santa Ana, CA to defend you.  The Chambers Law Firm can help.  Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation.

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