In Criminal Defense Can We Ever Trust An Anonymous Tip?

Brian StrongBrian Strong, Criminal Defense Attorney in ArizonaLeave a Comment

Anonymous TipAs a seasoned Arizona criminal defense attorney, I have learned that deceit often lurks behind anonymity. I think Fezzik said it best in the movie, The Princess Bride, when he told Inigo Montoya to be careful in his dealings with the “Man in Black” because: “People in masks cannot be trusted.”

The 6th Amendment affords us the right to confront our accusers because convictions should be based on trustworthy testimony. The language of the Arizona Constitution is even more precise by giving every accused the right “to meet the witnesses against him [or her] face to face,” without a mask. Ariz. Const. Art. II, § 24. Given these constitutional mandates, one would think that anonymous, hearsay testimony should rarely find its way into our criminal courts. Yet with the advent of cell phones, the frequency of anonymous statements being used as evidence has increased dramatically. As a result, federal and state courts have struggled to define exactly what types of anonymous tips are permissible and which are not.

The law does not require police officers to know everything upfront. Brief “investigative stops” are legal when there is “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting” criminal activity. United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-419 (1981). For example, a police officer may suspect that a certain driver is intoxicated but probable cause for an arrest will not exist until the vehicle has been stopped and a face to face interview is complete. Reasonable suspicion to justify an initial stop can be based on:

  1. the officer’s own observations;
  2. the comments of a known citizen; or
  3. an anonymous tip.

The observations of police officers and known citizens are always subject to cross-examination and can, therefore, be tested for credibility. Yet, I have never once had the pleasure of cross-examining Mr. or Ms. Anonymous.

The general rule is that anonymous tips that are “contemporaneous” in time and contain some “indicia of reliability” will justify an investigative stop. Contemporaneous in time is an easy legal standard to understand. Deciding exactly what creates an “indicia of reliability” has been the equivalent of a judicial quagmire. There are literally hundreds of conflicting appellate decisions on this subject. In many of those decisions, the judges themselves could not agree and written dissenting opinions are commonplace.

Given the complex legal factors involved, if you or a loved one is ever arrested because of an anonymous tip, please call our office at (480) 833-2341 immediately and one of our criminal defense attorneys will help you.

Attorney Profile: Brian D. Strong – Senior Associate
Direct Line: (480) 833-2341 (24/7)
Email: [email protected]
Main Area of Law: Criminal Defense Attorney
Blog: Brian’s Other Articles

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