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Thornton v. State (4th District Court of Appeals, March 7th, 2012).

Stuart Police Department received an email regarding “suspicious activity” from anonymous source. The email reported that males, most with dreadlocks, were “congregating” at the barber shop; that people would walk to the front door, make a call and then enter the barber shop through the back door; and that this activity would occur at night and people would leave their cars running while they were in the barber shop.

Detectives drove over to the strip mall around four o'clock in the afternoon and observed Defendant and ten to fifteen males standing near the barber shop. When the detectives exited the vehicle, the men entered the barber shop. One Detective followed the men to the barber shop back door while another approached Defendant, who was sitting in a parked car with the windows down and doors closed.

When the Detective approached the parked car, the Defendant looked into the center console and then looked up at the detective. The Defendant was asked to exit the vehicle because the Detective was concerned for officer safety and concerned that there was something “dangerous” in the console.  Defendant appeared nervous and fidgety and was breathing rapidly. McLain did not observe anything that appeared to be a weapon on Defendant, but told Defendant that he was going to conduct a pat down. When he attempted to do so, Defendant swatted his hand away. Defendant was then arrested and charged with possession with intent to sell, manufacture or deliver cocaine within 1000 feet of a park, community center or recreational facility and resisting an officer without violence.

The Court held that when the Detective asked Defendant to exit the car, a seizure occurred and the detective lacked reasonable suspicion to detain Defendant. The person providing the information in the email wished to remain anonymous, placing the tip very low on the reliability scale.  Further, the tip was vague and contained no allegations of criminal activity, but only “suspicious,” yet innocent, behavior. Finally, Defendant's conduct of reaching into the console, appearing “nervous,” and lying to the detective similarly did not provide reasonable suspicion for the detention.

Lastly, since the detention was illegal, the detective was not engaged in the “lawful” execution of a legal duty so as to support the resisting without violence conviction.  Therefore, all charges should have been suppressed.

This case is a good general discussion of the application of "Tips" to police investigation.