Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Bruce: Finding Reasonable Suspicion Based on an Anonymous 911 Tip

In United States v. Bruce, No. 18-10969 (Oct. 8, 2020) (Grant, Lagoa, Martin), the Court affirmed the denial of a motion to suppress.

First, the Court held that there was reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant.  An anonymous 911 call at 3am reported that men in a high-crime area were outside of a white car, one of them had a gun, and there might be a shooting any minute.  Officers arrived at the location and saw two men sitting in a car at the address.  Relying heavily on the Supreme Court’s decision in Navarette, the Court found that the tip was sufficiently reliable because it gave a first-hand contemporaneous account, and it supplied reasonable suspicion, even though the officers did not observe any criminal activity when they arrived at the scene.  The officers could have reasonably believed that the men in the car were the men being described by the tipster, they could have been hiding their dispute from the police, nothing the police observed undermined the tip, and the police were not required to watch and wait for a shooting to occur or risk their lives by approaching for a consensual encounter.

Second, the Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the police needed more than reasonable suspicion because the car was parked in the curtilage of a home.  Because that fact-specific argument was raised for the first time on appeal, and there was little information about the home or the defendant’s relationship to it, the defendant could not establish plain error.  The Court declined to remand for fact-finding, as doing so would undermine the plain-error doctrine.

Judge Martin dissented.  She agreed that the anonymous tip was sufficiently reliable, but she believed that any reasonable suspicion generated by the tip had dissipated when the officers arrived and merely saw two men sitting in a car with the dome light on.  She disagreed that an ongoing violent conflict was disguisable, and believed that the majority’s contrary conclusion was speculative.  She believed the officers should have observed the car and the occupants’ conduct, or should have conducted a consensual encounter.