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POLICE / PROSECUTOR UPDATE - MARCH 2006
Shining of Spotlight Not a “Seizure” * * * * *
Terry Stop / Anonymous Tip
A recent case addressed an issue new in Indiana: does the shining of a spotlight on a person amount to a “seizure” of that person? The Court of Appeals decided that the shining of a spotlight alone does not amount to such a show of authority that a reasonable person would have believed that he or she was not free to leave.
Around midnight, six police officers were investigating an anonymous tip from a police hotline concerning drug activity. As they approached a residence, they observed two men standing behind a car parked in the front yard of the residence. When one of the men began to move, one of the officers shined his squad car’s spotlight. When the light hit him, he crouched down, pulled something shiny from his waistband, and threw the object underneath the car. A handgun was recovered beneath the car and defendant was arrested for carrying a handgun without a license.
The defendant unsuccessfully sought to suppress the handgun, contending that he was unlawfully seized when the police shined the spotlight on him. Since he abandoned the handgun after the police had illegally seized him, it was inadmissible.
The law is that a person is seized when, by means of physical force or show of authority, a police officer has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen. The Court of Appeals looked at cases from other states finding seizures where the spotlight was accompanied by further police action like blocking the vehicle.
Here, the defendant threw the handgun under the car while the police spotlight illuminated him. However, the police did not have their sirens or emergency lights on at or before that time. The officers did not verbally order the defendant to stop, physically touch him, or display their weapons prior to him tossing the gun under the car. At the time he abandoned the gun, all six officers were still in their vehicles, and only one of those vehicles was a marked police car. Therefore, based on all these circumstances, the Court of Appeals held that the shining of the spotlight did not amount to a seizure. However, the use of a spotlight along with other actions could be a seizure. Campbell v. State, ___ N.E.2d ___ (Ind. App. 2006).
It may seem that we spend too much time reviewing the law regarding police actions based on an anonymous tip, but another conviction was recently thwarted because of a bad Terry stop.
The general rule is that an anonymous tip is not likely to constitute the reasonable suspicion necessary for a valid Terry stop. Absent any independent indicia of reliability of the tip or any officer-observed confirmation of the tipster’s prediction of the defendant’s future behavior, such a tip is not enough to permit police to detain a citizen and subject him or her to a Terry stop.
Regarding indicia of reliability of a tip, courts look first to the reliability of the informant. If there is no evidence that the informant is honest and reliable and no evidence of the caller’s basis for knowledge, as in an anonymous tip, courts look to other information which tends to corroborate the tip. In examining corroboration, courts distinguish between information which is easily obtained and that which is known only to a few. Only in the latter case will the corroboration show that an anonymous informant is probably reliable. Finally, the information which is corroborated should tend to show criminal activity has occurred or is about to occur. Independent corroboration is the key. Powell v. State, ___ N.E.2d ___ (Ind. App. 2006).
This is a publication of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, covering
various topics of interest to law enforcement officers. It is directed
solely toward issues of evidence, criminal law and procedure. Please
consult your city, town, or county attorney for legal advice relating to
civil liability. Please direct any suggestions you may have for future
issues to Steve Stewart at 285-6264.