Florida v. J. L.

LOCATION: A bus stop

DOCKET NO.: 98-1993
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Florida Supreme Court

CITATION: 529 US 266 (2000)
ARGUED: Feb 29, 2000
DECIDED: Mar 28, 2000

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
Michael J. Neimand – Fort Lauderdale, Florida, argued the cause for the petitioner

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.


Did searching J.L. solely on the basis of the anonymous tip received by the Miami-Dade police violate his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure?

Media for Florida v. J. L.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – February 29, 2000 in Florida v. J. L.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 28, 2000 in Florida v. J. L.

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 98-1993, Florida versus J. L. will be announced by Justice Ginsburg.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

An anonymous caller told the Miami-Dade County Florida police that a young Black male standing at a particular bus stop and wearing a plaid shirt was carrying a gun.

Police officers drove to the bus stop where they saw a person, we will call J.L., a Black male wearing a plaid shirt.

J.L. is the defendant respondent in this case.

Apart from the tip, the officers had no reason to suspect J.L. of any wrongdoing.

One of the officers frisked J.L. and seized a gun from his pocket.

Florida Supreme Court held the search unlawful under the First Amendment and we affirm that judgment.

In 1990 in Alabama v. White, this Court held that anonymous tips can justify police risks, but only if they present signs of reliability adequate to arouse reasonable suspicion.

In that case, an anonymous caller told the police that a certain woman was carrying cocaine.

The caller described not only the woman, but what she was about to do; she would leave a certain building, drive a certain car along an identified route.

Only after the police observed the woman, acting as the caller said she would, we explained, did it become reasonable to believe that the caller had inside information about the woman, and on that account to credit the caller’s report of the woman’s cocaine carriage.

The anonymous call about J. L. in contrast, gave the police no information on what J.L. would do; it left the police without a clue concerning the caller’s knowledge or credibility.

Florida emphasizes that the tip accurately described the suspect’s appearance; it really was a young black male wearing a plaid shirt at the bus stop.

But the tip reliability necessary to justify a stop and frisk is not just accuracy in identifying a particular person, the tip most essentially must bear signs of reliability regarding the charged conduct here, the unlawful carriage of a weapon.

A bare tip about an unlawful gun carriage, Florida suggests, should generally permit a stop and frisk because guns are so very dangerous.

But a firearm exception to the reasonable suspicion requirement could endanger everyone’s liberty; such an exception would enable anyone seeking to make trouble for another to instigate an intrusive embarrassing police search simply by placing an anonymous call, falsely reporting that the other is unlawfully carrying a gun.

The Fourth Amendment secures all persons against such easy invasion.

We do not speculate now on whether in some cases the danger might be so great as to justify a search even without a showing of the caller’s or the tip’s reliability.

We do not say for example that a report of a person carrying a bomb need bear the same indicia of reliability we require for a report that a person is carrying a firearm.

We hold only that something more than a bareboned anonymous tip must be shown to justify a firearm frisk.

Our decision is unanimous.

Justice Kennedy has filed a concurring opinion in which the Chief Justice joins.