Florida v. J.L. Case Brief

Facts of the case

On October 13, 1995 Miami-Dade police received an anonymous tip that a black male wearing a plaid shirt was standing near a bus stop carrying a gun. The two officers who responded found three black males, one of which, J.L., a 15 -year-old, was wearing a plaid shirt. After frisking him, the officers did find a firearm. J.L. was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a license. At trial, he moved to suppress the gun as evidence, arguing that the frisking performed by the officers was illegal under the Fourth Amendment. The trial court granted the motion, but was reversed by the immediate appellate court. The Florida Supreme Court overruled the appellate court and suppressed the evidence.

Why is the case important?

Based on an anonymous tip that a black male in a plaid shirt was standing at a bus stop armed, police stopped and frisked J.L.

Question

Whether an anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun is, without more, sufficient to justify a police officer’s stop and frisk of that person.

ANSWER

No. The Court initiated their discussion with a review of the essential law of Terry v. Ohio, “where a police officer observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous . . . he is entitled for the protection of himself and others in the area to conduct a carefully limited search of the outer clothing of such persons in an attempt to discover weapons which might be used to assault him.” The police could not observe a gun or any other threatening behavior beyond the tip. Further, the anonymous and uncorroborated tip lacked a “sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make the investigatory stop” per Alabama v. White. Thus, the Court held that there were insufficient grounds for the police to frisk the respondent.
Concurrence. J. Kennedy, joined by the Chief Justice, noted that the indicia of reliability was actually widening, thanks to a variety of technologies, but did not take any particular issue with the Court’s reasoning.

CONCLUSION

The court affirmed a judgment holding that a Terry stop and frisksearch of respondent based only on an anonymous tip was constitutionally invalid since an anonymous tip that a person was carrying a gun was, without more, insufficient to justify a police officer’s stop and frisk of that person.

  • Advocates: Michael J. Neimand Fort Lauderdale, Florida, argued the cause for the petitioner Harvey J. Sepler Miami, Florida, argued the cause for respondent Irving L. Gornstein Argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of court, supporting the petitioner
  • Petitioner: Florida
  • Respondent: J. L.
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: A bus stop
Citation: 529 US 266 (2000)
Argued: Feb 29, 2000
Decided: Mar 28, 2000
Florida v. J.L. Case Brief