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Anonymous Tip of Illegal Drug Activity is Not Enough for a Search or Seizure in Florida

As criminal defense lawyers in Jacksonville, Florida, we handle many drug cases and quite often, the search that led to the seizure of the illegal drugs was questionable. One example that occurred in a few of the drug cases we have is the police search for drugs based on an anonymous tip.

It is not uncommon for someone to call the police and, without identifying him/herself, claim that some person is committing some crime. The caller may say that a person is selling drugs somewhere or has drugs in his/her home or may be burglarizing a particular location. When the caller does not identify him/herself, the tip is considered anonymous. That puts the information in a different category in terms of reliability as opposed to information that comes from a known source. When police get an anonymous tip that a particular person is committing a particular crime, the police cannot just get a search warrant or just go and search the house, vehicle, person, etc. For instance, let’s say the police get a tip that Joe Smith who drives a while Chevrolet Malibu with blue stripes is growing marijuana at his pink and purple house at 123 Main Street. Police show up and see a pink and purple house with the exact car in the driveway. The identification information is confirmed, but unless the police observe something that corroborates the illegal activity, i.e. the marijuana growing, the police cannot search that house. When an anonymous tip is the basis for the investigation, the police need to see some evidence that corroborates the illegal activity, not just the identification information that anyone can see just by walking past the house.

Likewise, if the police received a tip that a white male wearing a orange shirt, green pants and a yellow hat is selling crack cocaine on the corner of Main and 1st streets, can the police stop and search him if they show up to Main and 1st and see that exact guy standing on the corner? No, not without some evidence corroborating the tip that he is actually selling drugs. The corroboration of the individual and his appearance is not sufficient to detain or search someone. If the police showed up, saw the guy and saw a couple of quick, hand to hand transactions, that would probably be enough for a brief detention to see if he was selling cocaine. However, when police get an anonymous tip of drug or other illegal activity, they need to verify the part of the tip relating to illegal activity before they can stop and search. If they just show up, confirm the identity of the suspect, house or vehicle and then search, any drugs or evidence obtained from the search may be thrown out of court.