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Anonymous 911 caller was sufficiently reliable for officers to stop and investigate

Toddrey Bruce appealed his conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Bruce was arrested when he was found in the possession of a firearm which was illegal under federal law for him to possess. In this appeal he claimed the trial court erred by not granting his motion to suppress the evidence of his gun possession because the seizure was a violation of the Fourth Amendment violation. Here are the facts leading to his seizure and arrest.

A 911 call came to the police at 3:00 a.m. by an anonymous person about a disturbance in the front yard of a “drug house” and that one of the men involved had a gun. He told the 911 operator that while he was speaking to the operator, they we were arguing and the person holding the gun he described as a black man standing next to a white car in front of the house. The tipster warned that the police should use caution because there might me shooting any minute. The dispatcher quickly related key parts of the call to the police and several officers who were nearby arrived on the scene with flashing police lights. The approaching officers saw two men in the white car at the address given by the tipster and for officer safety they drew their guns as they approached the car. The police approached Bruce while he was sitting in parked in front of a house. When the police approached the car, they told the men to exit the car, and Bruce tried to make a break for it. When one of the officers grabbed him, a semi-automatic pistol dropped from his waistband.

The federal criminal trial judge denied his motion to suppress the seizure of the gun under the Fourth Amendment because it fount that the police had conducted a valid investigatory stop.  Bruce argued that the police officers who approached him based on an anonymous tip had no reason to find the anonymous tip reliable. The court of appeals rejected this claim because it held the officers’ investigatory stop was justifiably based on the anonymous tip to conclude there was reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. As the starting point, the appellate court found that an anonymous 911 call giving eyewitness details of a real-time event is reliable enough to credit the caller’s account.

Here the caller claimed to have eyewitness knowledge of the event giving his first-hand account and lends credibility to the caller even though the identity is unknown. When the officers responded a few minutes later they confirmed that two men were nearby, or inside, the white car at the address provided which gave further credibility to the caller’s real-time report. Furthermore, a tipster’s call to 911 is another indicator of veracity since a 911 call can be traced and recorded.   Based on the information provided and the surrounding circumstances of the time, the high crime area, the court found it was not unreasonable for the officers to suspect that the two men were involved in a violent argument and that a man gripping a gun had been involved in criminal activity or were about to become involved in a crime.

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