Police in Florida often get tips from people about others who are allegedly involved in criminal activity. Many of these tips relate to people allegedly selling drugs or growing drugs. When the tips come from people who identify themselves to the police, know the suspects and have specific information about the criminal activity, the tips are considered more reliable than tips from anonymous people. When the tip comes from a person who is not willing to identify him/herself to police and discusses alleged criminal activity, this is not sufficient for the police to obtain a search warrant or make an arrest. The police can investigate the matter to see if they can observe facts that verify the tip and the criminal activity. If the police do in fact observe facts consistent with the tip and consistent with criminal activity, they may be able to detain or arrest the suspect. However, if the police observe the suspect and verify certain harmless facts (such as description and location) but not anything indicating criminal activity, the police cannot lawfully detain or arrest the suspect.
In a recent sale of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a park case just outside of Jacksonville, Florida, the police received an anonymous tip that the defendant was selling cocaine at a park with a young child. The police went to the park and saw the defendant and his son. They then saw the defendant walk to the driver’s side of another vehicle and then make an exchange of an unknown object for money. At this point, the police arrested the defendant for sale of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a park. They found that he was in possession of money and more cocaine at the time.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress evidence of the cocaine based on the argument that the police officer did not have probable cause to arrest the defendant. The court ruled that the arrest and search were valid. If the police officer had detained the defendant after only verifying that he was at the park with his son, that would not have been sufficient verification of the tip to justify detaining the defendant. Those facts are harmless facts that do not indicate criminal activity is occurring. However, once the police observed what appeared to be a hand to hand transaction, which are common in drug sales, the police did have sufficient corroboration of the tip to detain the defendant and investigate further.