Alabama v. White

RESPONDENT: Vanessa Rose White
LOCATION: Doby’s Motel Court

DOCKET NO.: 89-789
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 496 US 325 (1990)
ARGUED: Apr 17, 1990
DECIDED: Jun 11, 1990
GRANTED: Jan 16, 1990

David B. Byrne, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondent
Joseph G. L. Marston, III - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

An anonymous caller told Montgomery, Alabama police that Vanessa Rose White had cocaine in an attaché case in her car. The caller gave certain specific details about the car and White’s future movements. Following that tip, police followed Vanessa Rose White as she drove from an apartment complex to Doby’s Motel Court, where they pulled her over. When asked, White gave the officers permission to search her car and an attaché case found in the car. Police found marijuana in the case and arrested White. During processing at the police station, officers also found 3 milligrams of cocaine in White’s purse. After being charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine, White moved to suppress evidence of the drugs. The trial court denied the motion and White plead guilty. On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama reversed the motion, finding that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop and search White’s car. This search violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.


Does an anonymous tip alone provide a reasonable suspicion sufficent to stop and search an individual’s car?

Media for Alabama v. White

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 17, 1990 in Alabama v. White

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 89-789, Alabama v. Vanessa Rose White.

Mr. Marston.

Joseph G. L. Marston, III:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court:

At issue in this case is the stopping of a vehicle on a public highway in the middle of the afternoon.

Having stopped the respondent's automobile, the officers requested and received permission to search it.

And that was given.

The consensual search produced controlled substances upon... on the basis of which the respondent was taken into custody.

The Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama ruled that this was an investigatory stop and that it was illegal, contrary to the Fourth Amendment, because it was allegedly not based on reasonable suspicion.

Now, this case is basically a scaled-down version of Illinois v. Gates.

The cases are virtually identical except for the scope of the matter, Gates involved a cross-country trip, there and back.

Byron R. White:

Also, there the question is probable cause.

Joseph G. L. Marston, III:

Yes, sir.

That was my next point.

Byron R. White:

And... and this case is... you say reasonable suspicion?

Joseph G. L. Marston, III:

Reasonable suspicion.

Yes, sir.

Gates involved a cross-country trip.

This involved a cross-town trip.

Gates involved the search of a home, probable cause.

This involved the stopping of an automobile under reasonable suspicion.

Antonin Scalia:

And Gates involved activities which on their face looked sneaky and underhanded.

I mean, as soon as you saw the activities that... that had been noticed to the police, you said, gee, this is a very strange kind of activity going on.

It looks like there's something afoot.

Whereas one wouldn't think there was anything afoot in this case.

It's just like saying, you know, if you go out there you will see somebody walking down the street.

And the cop goes out and says, ah-hah, there is somebody walking down the street.

There is something afoot here.

That was not Gates.

Gates was a very complicated system of people driving cars back and coming back by plane.

And you says, gee, why are they doing that?