Florida v. J.L.
U.S. Supreme Court case Florida v. J.L., No. 98-1993
decided on March 28, 2000. Oral Arguments on February 29, 2000.
U.S. Supreme Court issues rare unanimous opinion in a criminal case
The Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office in March 2000 won a significant
U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld our Fourth Amendment right against
unreasonable searches and seizures. The unanimous ruling is unusual in criminal
cases because of the divergent legal and political philosophies of the Supreme
Court justices. However, the issues were so clear in Florida v. J.L. that they
completely agreed that police may not stop and
frisk someone based merely on an anonymous tip that he is carrying a gun.
On October 13, 1995, an anonymous caller reported to Miami-Dade police that a
young black male standing at a particular bus stop and wearing a plaid shirt was
carrying a gun. The police went to the scene and saw a group of young
black males standing at a bus stop as described by the anonymous tipster. J.L. was among the group of males and was wearing a plaid shirt. The police could not tell whether or not
carrying a gun. One officer approached J.L., asked him to put his hands up, and
frisked him. The officer found a gun in J.L.s pocket. The officer took the gun and arrested J.L.
The police charged J.L. with unlawfully carrying a concealed firearm and possession of a firearm by a minor.
Before J.L.s trial, J.L.s attorney, an assistant public defender (APD) with the
Law Offices of Public Defender Bennett H. Brummer, asked the judge not to
allow the gun to be used in the trial as evidence because the police acquired the gun through an
illegal search and seizure. The
APD contended that the police did not
have the reasonable suspicion necessary to conduct a lawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the
U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 12 of the Florida
Constitution. The APD specifically contended that the anonymous tip was unreliable because the police had no other information to verify that
J.L. was carrying a concealed gun. The
judge ruled that the police did not have enough information to supply them with a reasonable suspicion that
J.L. was carrying a gun. The judge suppressed the gun
because the police committed an unreasonable search and seizure. The judge based his ruling on the similar case of
Butts v. State, 644 So. 2d 605 (Fla. 1st DCA 1994).
The prosecuting attorney appealed the trial judges ruling to the Third District Court of Appeal. The
prosecutor argued that once the police arrived at the scene and were able
to see that the anonymous tipster accurately described the persons and location,
the officers had a reasonable suspicion that
J.L. was committing a crime and, thus, were
justified in conducting the stop-and-frisk. J.L.s attorney argued that the trial judge correctly suppressed the gun because the anonymous tip was not sufficiently verified by the police
officers observations. The appellate court reversed the ruling of the trial court and held that the gun should be allowed into evidence at
J.L.s trial. The
appeals court stated that upon the police
officers arrival at the scene, they were able to verify that the anonymous tip was reliable and accurate. The
appellate court also stated that although the police could not verify that
J.L. was carrying a
concealed gun prior to searching him, the stop-and-frisk was reasonable because the officers had to ensure their own safety.
J.L. appealed to the Supreme Court of Florida because the decision of the appellate court was in conflict with the decision in
In 1998, the Supreme Court of Florida held the search invalid under the Fourth
Amendment. The court found that anonymous tips are generally less reliable than tips from known informants and can form the basis for reasonable suspicion only if accompanied by specific indicia
The State of Florida appealed the Florida Supreme Court ruling to the U.S.
Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the Florida Supreme Court and held unanimously
that an anonymous tip that a person is carrying a gun is not enough to justify a
police officers stop and frisk of that person without further reliable
information that the tip is credible.
J.L. never went to trial on the criminal charges.
You can review the
opinion of the Third District Court of
Appeal of Florida.
Also available are the Petitioner's
Brief filed by the Law Offices of Public Defender Bennett H. Brummer and the
filed by Robert A. Butterworth, Attorney General of Florida, when the case was argued before
the Florida Supreme Court.
You also can listen to audio
or video files of the
oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court.
To read the full text of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, click
here. You also can view the Petitioner's Brief filed by the
Florida Attorney General, Respondent's Brief filed by the Public
Defender's Office, the Petitioner's Reply Brief filed by the Florida
Attorney General, and a Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae Supporting
Petitioner filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, all from when the case was argued
before the nation's highest court.
To view the U.S. Supreme Court briefs, you must have the Adobe
Acrobat Reader loaded on your computer.
To read the New York Times article on the
Supreme Court's decision in Florida v. J.L., click
To read the American Bar Association Supreme Court
Review on Florida v. J.L. that was published in the New York Times, click
*This case summary includes information from the Supreme Court
of Florida Cybercourt
web site, an educational program designed for high school students.