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Detailed Information About a Suspect from Anonymous Source Not Enough for Search and Seizure

The United States and Florida Constitutions protect citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures by police. One example where the police will stop and search someone is when they receive an anonymous tip of criminal activity. However, anonymous tips alone are not enough to justify a search and seizure of a person. Even where the anonymous tip very specifically identifies the suspect and his/her predicted behavior, that alone is insufficient to justify a search and seizure.

For instance, suppose a person unknown to the police approaches an officer and says that Joe Smith drives to the local motel every day and sells crack cocaine. That person gives a perfect description of Joe Smith, his vehicle and the exact time he will show up to the exact place at the motel. Suppose the police go to the motel the next day and they see Joe Smith arrive just as the tip indicated. Can the police stop Joe Smith at that point and search him? No. Even where the anonymous tip proves to be 100% accurate, the police need more to justify a search and seizure. For instance, the police would need to verify some evidence that Joe Smith is actually involved in criminal activity at the motel before they stop him. If the police went to the motel and saw Joe Smith pull up and then saw him conduct what appeared to be hand to hand drug transactions, that would be different. In the former scenario, the police merely confirmed harmless details about Joe Smith that did not indicate he was involved in criminal activity- his appearance, his vehicle and his location. However, once they actually see Joe Smith engage in conduct that may be consistent with criminal activity, that plus the anonymous tip information would be sufficient to stop Joe Smith.