August 23, 2019

Tenth Circuit: 911 Call Sufficiently Reliable to Provide Basis For a Terry Stop

The Tenth Circuit issued its opinion in United States v. Conner on Thursday, November 15, 2012.

Christopher Michael Conner, the defendant,  entered a conditional plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm, 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1), reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress. He argued that the officers who stopped and frisked him based upon an anonymous 911 call violated the Fourth Amendment.

The Tenth Circuit considered the totality of circumstances to determine whether the 911 call possessed sufficient indicia of reliability to provide the basis for a stop. First, because the caller gave his phone number and address, he was readily identifiable by the police and so not truly anonymous. Second, the caller’s immediate first-hand knowledge added to this reliability. He heard someone say, “no, no,” and he saw the defendant put a gun in his waistband. Third, the caller provided specific details, including a description of the defendant and an SUV he exited. Fourth, the fact that the caller gave his address and phone number, but not his name, was suggestive of his acting as a concerned, but perhaps fearful, citizen, not  someone with malicious motives. The fact that the police were able to corroborate the details of the 911 call also led to the court’s holding that the 911 call possessed sufficient indicia of reliability.

The court also determined the police had a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. The stop occurred late at night in a high crime area, shortly after the 911 call reporting what may have been someone being threatened by a gun and the individual who matched the caller’s description of an armed man took evasive action after seeing the police.

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