CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA No. 98-1993. Argued February 29, 2000-Decided March 28, 2000
After an anonymous caller reported to the Miami-Dade Police that a young black male standing at a particular bus stop and wearing a plaid shirt was carrying a gun, officers went to the bus stop and saw three black males, one of whom, respondent J. L., was wearing a plaid shirt. Apart from the tip, the officers had no reason to suspect any of the three of illegal conduct. The officers did not see a firearm or observe any unusual movements. One of the officers frisked J. L. and seized a gun from his pocket. J. L., who was then almost 16, was charged under state law with carrying a concealed firearm without a license and possessing a firearm while under the age of 18. The trial court granted his motion to suppress the gun as the fruit of an unlawful search. The intermediate appellate court reversed, but the Supreme Court of Florida quashed that decision and held the search invalid under the Fourth Amendment.
Held: An anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun is not, without more, sufficient to justify a police officer’s stop and frisk of that person. An officer, for the protection of himself and others, may conduct a carefully limited search for weapons in the outer clothing of persons engaged in unusual conduct where, inter alia, the officer reasonably concludes in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons in question may be armed and presently dangerous. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1, 30. Here, the officers’ suspicion that J. L. was carrying a weapon arose not from their own observations but solely from a call made from an unknown location by an unknown caller. The tip lacked sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make a Terry stop: It provided no predictive information and therefore left the police without means to test the informant’s knowledge or credibility. See Alabama v. White, 496 U. S. 325, 327. The contentions of Florida and the United States as amicus that the tip was reliable because it accurately described J. L.’s visible attributes misapprehend the reliability needed for a tip to justify a Terry stop. The reasonable suspicion here at issue requires that a tip be reliable in its assertion of illegality, not just in its tendency to identify a determinate person. This Court also declines to adopt the argument that the standard Terry analysis should be modified to license a “firearm exception,” under which a tip alleging an illegal gun would justify a stop and frisk even if
the accusation would fail standard pre-search reliability testing. The facts of this case do not require the Court to speculate about the circumstances under which the danger alleged in an anonymous tip might be so great–e. g., a report of a person carrying a bomb-as to justify a search even without a showing of reliability. Pp.269-274.
727 So. 2d 204, affirmed.
GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. KENNEDY, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., joined, post, p.274.
Michael J. Neimand, Assistant Attorney General of Florida, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General.
Irving L. Gornstein argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Waxman, Assistant Attorney General Robinson, and Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben.
Harvey J. Sepler argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Bennett H. Brummer and Andrew Stanton. *