The Tennessee Supreme Court recently ruled that police officers across the state must corroborate anonymous tips before they are permitted to stop and frisk someone. The rule came from a case involving about a man, Guy Alvin Williamson, who was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and of firearm possession while intoxicated. The ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned an earlier ruling by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals.
The Court held that police had no grounds to stop and frisk Williamson at a hotel he was staying in because there was no indication, beyond one anonymous tip, that a crime had been committed. As a result, the high court said evidence against Williamson should have been suppressed at trial. The tip came in May of 2009 that there was an armed party at a local motel. Williamson was found in possession of a firearm and arrested as a result. Police based their search only on one report before drawing their guns on Williamson and two others.
The opinion should help protect others wrongfully stopped and frisked by police officers against illegal searches and seizures. From now on police in the state will have to have additional grounds to believe that a crime has been committed beyond a simple anonymous tip. In this case especially the fact that someone is carrying is gun is not sufficient to justify a search and seizure because many individuals are legally permitted to carry a firearm.
It’s important to note that the opinion did not say that police can’t act on anonymous tips, only that law enforcement must have some reason to believe that a crime has been committed before stopping and frisking potentially innocent individuals.
To read the full opinion, click here.
(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 266-0605.)