Sunday, August 03, 2014

Case o' The Week: Anon, anon - Anonymous Tips & Reasonable Suspicion - Edwards and Fourth Amendment Stops

Q: How reliable can an anonymous tip really be?
A: Reliable enough.
United States v. Edwards, 2014 WL 3747130 (9th Cir. July 31, 2014), decision available here.

Players: Decision by Judge Fisher, joined by Judges Noonan and Wardlaw. Hard-fought appeal by (former) CD Cal AFPD Davina Chen.

Facts: An anonymous 911 caller reported a “young black male” shooting at cars. Id. The shooter was described as between 5’ 7” and 5’9” tall, and “maybe 19, 20” years old. Id. The suspect was described as wearing a black shirt and grey khaki pants. Id. Minutes later, officers stopped Edwards: an African American who was 5’11”, 26 years old, and wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and gray pants. Id. He was arrested near the store where the shooting took place. Id. Cops approached Edwards with guns drawn, told him to kneel, handcuffed him, stood him up, had him spread his legs, pat searched him, and found a .22 revolver. Id. Edwards was charged with Section 922(g) and entered a conditional guilty plea after losing his suppression motion. Id. at *22. 
  (Ed. Note: The CD Cal USAO allows conditional pleas, and the wheels of justice continue to turn. Interesting fact, for the ND Cal.)
Issue(s): “Specifically, Edwards contends that the officers’ conduct converted his detention before the gun was discovered from an investigatory stop into an arrest, and that even if Edwards’ detention was merely an investigatory stop, the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop him.” Id. at *1. “Edwards . . . disputes that the anonymous 911 call provided the officers with enough information to give them reasonable suspicion to support the investigatory stop in the first place.” Id. at *4.

Held: “We hold that the officers properly conducted an investigatory stop and had reasonable suspicion to do so.” Id. at *1. “Here . . . the officers’ aggressive conduct was reasonable and did not convert Edwards’ detention into an arrest.” Id. at *3 (citation omitted). “In this case, the tip was an anonymous 911 call from an eyewitness reporting an ongoing and dangerous situation and providing a detailed description of the suspect. In light of Navarette, we conclude that the anonymous call leading to Edwards’ detention exhibited sufficient indicia of reliability to provide the officers with reasonable suspicion.” Id. at *6. “Applying Navarette and Terry-Crespo, we hold that the officers in this case reasonably relied on the anonymous call in stopping Edwards, as the district court properly found.”

Hon. Judge Raymond Fisher
Of Note: The main focus of this decision is the intersection of an anonymous tip in an emergency situation – and whether that setting can provide reasonable cause for a stop. Id. at *4. The new wrinkle in this analysis is the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Navarette v. California. Id. at *5. Unfortunately, that wrinkle is applied by Judge Fisher to find – in this setting – that reasonable suspicion supported the stop. Id. at *6. 
  For better or worse, Edwards is now an important Ninth decision on anonymous tips and stops: the Circuit’s first application of the Supreme Court’s new rules in this area.

How to Use: Could the knowledge of the 911 dispatcher be imputed to the responding officers? Edwards argued, “no,” relying on the Second’s decision in Colon. Id. at *7 & n.3. The Ninth avoids the issue, distinguishing Colon because in Edwards the dispatcher conveyed to the officers the core data used to build reasonable suspicion: the suspect’s location, description of the suspect, etc. Id. The issue of imputed dispatcher knowledge appears to remain an open question (and an area of potential challenge) in the Ninth.
For Further Reading: 46,000 incarcerated drug offenders may get relief from resentencing. Every one of them are now writing you, to ask for help. For an interesting summary of the drug resentencing status, see article here
   Happily, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts hasn’t (yet) prohibited Federal Defenders from – well, defending – these clients. See, contra, Clemency Memo article here. 
   CJA counsel, stay tuned for updates– Defender organizations are meeting on the project, structured plans for this righteous work are underway.

Image of the “Anonymous” mask from
Image of the Honorable Judge Raymond Fisher from

Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender ND Cal FPD. Website at


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