I’m Attorney Mike Contant. A question that comes up from time to time is, “Can the police stop my car based solely on an anonymous tip?” And the short answer to that question is, “No.”
The Right Against Unreasonable Searches And Seizures
That’s because you have certain rights to privacy guaranteed by both the Massachusetts as well as the United States constitution. One of those rights is the right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Whenever the police stops you, whether it’s on foot or in your car, that’s considered a seizure. In order to do so, they have to have a certain level of information. And that level of information requires what they call a reasonable suspicion that you either are committing, have committed or are about to commit a crime.
In the case of your car, they can also stop you if they see you commit a traffic violation like speeding or changing lanes without using your turn signal or running a stop sign. That’s some of the information they would need in order to stop you.
An Anonymous Tip Is Not Enough
An anonymous tip all by itself is not enough to raise that reasonable suspicion. That’s because anonymous tips are considered unreliable. Basically, anybody who is anonymous can make up a story about anyone else.
An anonymous person can call a police station and say, “Hey. I’m not giving my name. I’m not giving my phone number. I don’t want to be identified. I’m calling from a blocked number. I just saw a white male who I know. And he is in this car. It’s a green Ford Mustang. It’s got the plate number XYZ123. It’s traveling up Route 95 North. And it has drugs in the trunk.”
That story can be completely made up. And because the person is anonymous, there’s no way to check the validity of that story. If the police acts on that tip, stops that car and searches the car, anything they find, whether a gun or drugs or anything else, would not be admissible.
Here’s What The Police CAN Do
However, that doesn’t mean the police can’t do anything with that tip. It doesn’t mean they have to ignore it because it’s anonymous. The police can do something. They can go find the car.
And if the car happens to be in that particular location and meets that description, they could follow it and they could see if it does anything wrong, such as a traffic violation or something else. And if it does that or they see some other evidence of criminal activity, then they may have enough, along with the anonymous tip, in order to stop that car.
What If They Act ONLY Based On The Tip?
But if all they’re acting on is the anonymous tip, it’s simply not enough to stop that car. So if they stop that car and they search it, even if they ask the owner for permission to search it, the stop itself is illegal.
As a result, that permission is no good and anything they find in that car cannot be used against the person in court. We would file a motion with the judge to demonstrate that the only information they had was that anonymous tip. And if that’s the case, the court will not allow the police to use whatever evidence they found in that car.
So if you have any questions about your privacy rights within your vehicle, your home or anything else related to this, please feel free to give me a call or shoot me an email. I’d be happy to speak with you about it.