The Court of Appeals in Miles v. U.S., decided on March 29, 2018, reversed gun related charges and conviction due to defendant’s 4th amendment violations.
An anonymous 911 call and tip formed the basis for the Terry stop which led the arrest and seizure of weapons. The tip provided by a concerned citizen described a man wearing a blue army jacket with characteristics similar to Mr. Miles’s shooting a gun in the air.
Miles argued on appeal that:
- The 911 tip was not sufficiently corroborated at the scene and thus was not shown to be reliable.
- That his flight from the police officers when approached near the location of the alleged shooting was not sufficient to corroborate the tip.
The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed the conviction.
The police officer collectively and individually and testified that Miles was located within few minutes of the tip at about the same vicinity described wearing a blue army type jacket. The photos admitted at trial demonstrated that the color of the jacket resembled more grayish than blue.
As the officers approached Miles, they did notice a bulge from his side waistband and as they ordered him to stop Miles fled on foot.
He was tackled down and a weapon and ammunition were retrieved from him.
The trial court found that the combination of the tip and the description provided with Miles fleeing the scene and from the officers together was sufficient for the Terry stop. There was a reasonable articulable suspicion for the stop and the search that ensued retried a weapon. The court interpreted flight as consciousness of guilt.
The case law on Terry stops is well established.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by the Government, and its protections extend to brief investigatory stops, the so called “Terry stops” that fall short of traditional arrest.
Thus a stop is lawful only if the detaining officers have an articulable, particularized and objective basis for suspecting criminal activity.
While consciousness of guilt can be a historical fact when viewed as a mental state — the court considers various other objective factors in deciding whether a Terry stop is justified and reasonable under the circumstances.
For an anonymous tip to rise to the level of reasonable suspicion, there must be:
- Accurate description of the criminal activity and the individual involved;
- There also must be corroborating circumstances supporting the description provided by the tip.
That is, there must be some additional independent evidence upon arriving at the scene that supports the tip before a valid Terry Stop may be implemented.
There must be sufficient corroborating evidence to allow the police to conclude that the tip was reliable in alleging illegality.
If the Terry stop and the tip related to a high crime area where there is regular illegal activity then such independent corroboration is not needed or required. However here such was not the case.
The Court also remarked that flight cannot imply consciousness of guilt in all criminal cases.
That the well accepted axiom of criminal law “that the wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion” does not provide a legal basis for a Terry Stop particularly because the defendant’s flight was not unprovoked.
This case is significant as it outlines further the boundaries of reasonableness in a Terry stop and further defines a constitutionally valid arrest v. and an illegal stop, search and seizure.
View our Washington DC Criminal Lawyer page for further resources and information on this subject.