Anonymous Tipsters in Criminal Cases

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Thanks to the Indiana Constitution, citizens have the right to be, “secure … against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Ind. Const. art. 1§ 11. This does not apply when a law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is happening. Does this sound vague? Reasonable suspicion is intentionally vague, permitting more information to reach officers. The Supreme Court held that to make, “reasonable suspicion determinations” the lower courts should look at the “totality of the circumstances” of each case to see if the officer made an appropriate determination of criminal activity. Sellmer v. State, 842 N.E.2d 358, 360–61 (Ind. 2006) citing, State v. Bulington, 802 N.E.2d 435, 438 (Ind.2004) (quoting *361 Arvizu, 534 U.S. at 273, 122 S.Ct. 744).

A common example of this is when an anonymous tipster calls in to report suspicious activity. Most of these calls originate with good intentions but often end up getting the wrong person in trouble. For an anonymous tip to reach the level of reasonable suspicion for an investigatory stop, it must fulfill a two-part framework.


The first part of the test is that “significant aspects of the tip must be corroborated by the police.” Id. at 1271. This kind of corroboration must be more in depth than simple observations that could be made by the public. Johnson v. State, 659 N.E.2d 116, 119 (Ind.1995) (an anonymous tip that provided only information easily obtainable by members of the general public was insufficiently reliable to constitute reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop).


The second part of the framework provides that if the tip is to be considered reasonable suspicion, it also must, “demonstrate an intimate familiarity with the suspect’s affairs and be able to predict future behavior.” Sellmer v. State, 842 N.E.2d 358, 361 (Ind. 2006). This heightened requirement prevents fraudulent allegations. If each anonymous tip justified a search, “every citizen’s home [and car for that matter] would be fair game for a variety of innocent and not so innocent intrusions. Jaggers v. State, 687 N.E.2d 180, 183 (Ind.1997).

In Grayson v. State, an anonymous tipster reported activity that possessed an imminent harm to the public. A man was waiving a gun around, allowing for the officer to justify an investigatory stop. When taking in the totality of the circumstances, the gunman possessed a severe threat raising to the level of reasonable suspicion.

This framework gives the defense a small amount of leverage in verifying if the anonymous tip was corroborated by the police in intimate detail. To establish probable cause, an anonymous tipster must provide more than uncorroborated hearsay alone for a search warrant.

If you have gotten into legal trouble recently and think it stemmed from an unjustified anonymous tip, the experienced Criminal Defense Attorneys at Banks & Brower may be able to provide relief. If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, give us a call anytime at (317) 870-0019 or send us an email at