WHITE v. U.S.,
454 U.S. 924 (1981)

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U.S. Supreme Court

WHITE v. U.S. , 454 U.S. 924 (1981)

454 U.S. 924


No. 80-6704 No.80-6759 Supreme Court of the United States October 13, 1981

On petitions for writs of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The petitions for writs of certiorari are denied.

Justice WHITE, with whom Justice BRENNAN and Justice MARSHALL join, dissenting. Two Terms previous, I dissented from a denial of certiorari that left the state and lower federal courts in conflict and confusion over whether an anonymous tip may furnish reasonable suspicion for an investigatory detention. Jernigan v. Louisiana, 446 U.S. 958d 816 (1980). Because it remains apparent that this difficult issue of everyday importance to law enforcement officials and citizens on the street alike requires resolution here, I am again moved to note my dissent. The District of Columbia Police received an anonymous telephone call informing them that a young black man known as "Nicky" and wearing a blue jumpsuit had parked his 1971 Ford at No. 1 15th Street, N. E., entered a 1974 Oldsmobile, and driven away. The caller, who further identified the cars by color and license number, said that "Nicky" and the unidentified driver of the Oldsmobile were involved in narcotics traffic and would be " dirty" with drugs when they returned. The caller refused to identify himself or how he obtained this information. Upon receipt of the tip, two police officers, working out of uniform, established surveillance at the address given. They observed the Oldsmobile returning with a black male passenger in a blue sweatsuit, but saw no suspicious activity. The officers pulled their unmarked cruiser alongside the Oldsmobile partially blocking its access, displayed police identification, approached the car with guns drawn, and ordered the men, the petitioners in these cases, out of their automobile. Heroin and narcotics paraphernalia were subsequently discovered, leading to the men's arrest and conviction for possession of and intent to distribute heroin.

Page 454 U.S. 924 , 925

A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the trial court's denial of petitioners' motion to suppress the evidence seized from the Oldsmobile as the fruit of an invalid investigatory stop. 208 U.S.App.D.C. 289, 648 F.2d 29 (1981). The majority first determined that the actions of the police should be treated as a brief investigatory detention. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), instead of an arrest. [Footnote 1] It then concluded that the stop was valid because of the specificity of the descriptions provided and the verification of that information by the police. Judge Edwards strongly dissented on both points. The majority admitted that "[t]he question whether an anonymous tip corroborated only by observation of innocent details justified a Terry stop is a live and disputed one," 208 U.S.App.D.C., at 303, 648 F.2d, at 43.

Arguably, the decision of the Court of Appeals is inconsistent with our prior cases which require that reasonable suspicion be based on a sufficiently reliable informant's tip. In Adams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143 (1972), we not only recognized that "[s]ome tips, completely lacking in indicia of reliability, would either warrant no police response or require further investigation before a forcible stop of the suspect would be authorized," id., at 147, but also explicitly noted thatAdams presented a stronger case "than obtains in the case of an anonymous telephone tip," id., at 146, 92 S.Ct. at 1923. Informers who have provided accurate tips in the past, e. g., Terry, supra, or who offer tips that can be immediately confirmed on the scene, e. g., Adams, supra, stand on a much firmer ground of reliability than anonymous telephone callers.

Other Federal Courts of Appeals have taken widely divergent positions on the reliability of an unidentified tipster. Compare United States v. McLeroy, 584 F.2d 746 (CA5 1978), and United States v. Robinson, 536 F.2d 1298 (CA9 [454 U.S. 924 , 926]

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