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June 7, 1991


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Bruce D. Beaudin, Trial Judge

Farrell, Associate Judge. Concurring opinion by Senior Judge Kern. Dissenting opinion by Associate Judge Steadman.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell

On March 15, 1989, at approximately 2:00 a.m., the police received a call from an unknown citizen stating that three or four individuals were selling drugs at the corner of Fourteenth and Buchanan Streets, N.W. No additional description of the individuals was given. Within a period of time unclear in the record but which the government concedes to be fifteen to twenty minutes, police officers arrived at the intersection in marked vehicles and saw three to five persons standing on the northwest corner. The group dispersed on sighting the police, as two men "took off around the corner" and appellant began to walk away "at a brisk pace." One of the officers jumped out of his car and walked quickly after appellant. Appellant then stopped and placed on the ground a tote bag he was carrying; he made no attempt to move on. The officer took hold of appellant's arm, picked up the bag, and ushered him back to the police car where he asked him whose bag it was. Appellant replied, "It's not mine. You can have it if you want it." The bag was searched at the scene and found to contain cocaine.

The trial Judge found -- and appellant does not dispute -- that if the police acted properly before taking hold of appellant and the bag, the Fourth Amendment was not violated because appellant either abandoned the bag at that point or consented to a search of its contents. The court further concluded that the police, on the basis of the telephone call and their own observations, had reasonable suspicion justifying the seizure of appellant and the bag. We are compelled to reverse.


We begin with the relevant legal principles undisputed by the parties. To justify an investigative detention or seizure under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L. Ed. 2d 889 (1968), the police "must have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity." United States v. Cortez, 449 U.S. 411, 417-18, 101 S. Ct. 690, 66 L. Ed. 2d 621 (1981). As the Supreme Court recently explained, "Reasonable suspicion, like probable cause, is dependent upon both the content of information possessed by police and its degree of reliability. Both factors -- quantity and quality -- are considered in the 'totality of circumstances' that must be taken into account when evaluating whether there is reasonable suspicion." Alabama v. White, 110 S. Ct. 2412, 2416, 110 L. Ed. 2d 301 (1990), quoting Cortez, 449 U.S. at 417. These factors (the content of the information and its degree of reliability) reflect the criteria the Court traditionally has employed in evaluating anonymous tips as a basis for finding probable cause, viz., the informant's "veracity," "reliability," and "basis of knowledge." In White, the Court confirmed its earlier holding in Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 103 S. Ct. 2317, 76 L. Ed. 2d 527 (1983), that these factors "remain 'highly relevant in determining the value of [the informant's] report,'" White, 110 S. Ct. at 2415, and applied them to the lesser showing required for reasonable suspicion. In addition to knowledge of the informant himself, "corroboration of details of an informant's tip by independent police work," Gates, 462 U.S. at 241, can provide a substantial basis for crediting the informant's statement. Goldston v. United States, 562 A.2d 96, 100 (D.C. 1989).

On appeal, this court makes an independent determination of whether there was reasonable suspicion, Brown v. United States, 590 A.2d 1008 (D.C. May 8, 1991) (probable cause), although in doing so "we give deference to the court's findings of fact as to the circumstances surrounding the appellant's encounter with the police." Giles v. United States, 400 A.2d 1051, 1054 (D.C. 1979). The facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom must be viewed in favor of sustaining the trial court's ruling. Nixon v. United States, 402 A.2d 816, 819 (D.C. 1979).


Our task, then, in this case is to apply a "totality of the circumstances approach . . . taking into account the facts known to the officers from personal observation, and giving the anonymous tip the weight it deserved in light of its indicia of reliability as established through independent police work." White, 110 S. Ct. at 2416. We begin with the tip itself and ask what the police knew about its reliability and content -- its quality and quantity. The trial Judge found that the police went to Fourteenth and Buchanan Streets "pursuant to a citizen complaint about drug dealing." The government thus urges that we apply the "presumption," which we have "long recognized," that "a citizen is prima facie a more credible source than a paid police informant," and further that when the citizen appears to have personally observed a crime, "the reliability of his or her information is greatly enhanced." Allen v. United States, 496 A.2d 1046, 1048 (D.C. 1985) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The government points to the testimony of Officer Morgan that he responded to Fourteenth and Buchanan Streets after "Lieutenant Hawkins came in and said a woman who lives in the area called, she said there were three to four subjects at the corner of 14th and Buchanan, they're there now and they are selling drugs" (emphasis added). The government asserts that from this it can be inferred that the woman had personally observed the illicit activity that she said was continuing.

The Judge made no express finding that the caller lived in the area and had personally seen the drug activity she reported, perhaps because Officer Morgan's statement quoted above was hearsay several times removed, and elsewhere he testified only that Hawkins had told him the station clerk had received a call "that there were three or four subjects selling drugs on the corner of 14th and Buchanan Streets, N.W." Also, the caller in this case does not compare favorably with the citizen in Allen, supra. *fn1 See also Brown, supra, slip op. at 15-18. Nevertheless, we may assume that the anonymous caller possessed citizen-eyewitness status and hence that her report had reliability beyond that accorded a tip from a caller whose basis of knowledge is wholly unknown. It is when we turn to the content of the information and the circumstances of its corroboration that the government's argument falters.

The tip stated that three or four persons were presently at Fourteenth and Buchanan Streets selling drugs. Other than describing the number of participants, it gave no physical description of the suspects by sex, race, size, clothing or any other distinguishing feature; *fn2 nor did it describe any object, such as a car or storefront, in the vicinity of which they could be located. *fn3 See Brown, supra, slip op. at 18-19, 34 (noting "scanty" description furnished by anonymous informant). These omissions are important when we consider the other key factor in this case, the delay of at least fifteen minutes in the arrival of the police at the reported location. *fn4 Appellant asserts, and the government does not disagree, that this response time is considerably longer than the delay involved in our past decisions on point. *fn5 The government argues, however, that the delay is neutralized by the fact that the events occurred at 2:00 a.m. when relatively few people could be expected to be on the street, and the fact that the police upon arriving saw no other individuals at the intersection. *fn6

These facts do not suffice on this record. In their testimony the police officers acknowledged that a bus and taxi cab stop, a convenience store, and a twenty-four-hour gas station were located at or near the intersection and that bus service along that route continued late into the night. Moreover, as the police drove toward the intersection "there were other people throughout the block . . . on the west side of the street on the 14th Street corridor." In these circumstances, the lack of specificity in the tip leaves too much uncertainty whether the persons the police saw at the corner were the same ones the caller had identified more than a quarter of an hour earlier.

The government further argues that any uncertainty about appellant's involvement in selling drugs -- bearing in mind that only reasonable suspicion is needed -- was overcome by his behavior in abruptly walking away and then stopping and depositing his bag when the police pulled up in their marked vehicles. It is basic that independent police observation of suspicious conduct can offer confirmatory support for a tip that otherwise would be inadequate. See Lawson v. United States, supra. We conclude, however, that the government's reliance on evidence of "flight" in this case is foreclosed by this court's en banc decision in Smith v. United States, 558 A.2d 312 (D.C. 1989). In Smith the court recognized that "flight from authority -- implying consciousness of guilt -- may be considered among other factors justifying a Terry seizure." 558 A.2d at 319 (quoting United States v. Johnson, 496 A.2d 592, 597 (D.C. 1985)). However, the en banc majority held, such use of flight presupposes a finding that "the manner of flight suggests consciousness of guilt rather than a mere desire not to interact with the police . . . . For flight to suggest consciousness of guilt -- a mentality other than a legitimate desire to avoid the police -- that flight not only must be very clearly in response to a show of authority but also must be carried out at such a rate of speed, or in such an erratic or evasive manner that a guilty conscience is the most reasonable explanation." 558 A.2d at 319 (emphasis added) (separate majority opinion by Judge Ferren).

Thus, the fact that in this case the individuals, including appellant, clearly knew that police were present does not satisfy the Smith test unless appellant's reaction was in the manner Smith requires. It was not. As in Smith, appellant did not "bolt or run" from the scene, id. at 317, but walked away at a fast pace. *fn7 Smith expressly held that "the fact that the person chooses to leave the scene, even at a brisk pace, cannot reasonably arouse suspicion" if the police "do not otherwise have a legitimate basis for a Terry stop." Id. at 319. Smith thus refused to allow a departure shy of a run (or equivalent evasiveness) to complete the mosaic of facts known to the police comprising reasonable suspicion.

All three Judges on this division believe that this holding of Smith may be too inflexible and even in tension with the broader holding of the lead majority opinion in Smith by Judge Newman. See 558 A.2d at 316. But a division may not ignore either majority statement of Smith's holding. Nor may we circumvent it by concluding that appellant's actions in suddenly stopping and placing the tote bag on the ground amounted to the additional "erratic or evasive" conduct Smith requires. The government is correct that appellant did not do these acts in response to a police command, but the record also contains an acknowledgment by the seizing officer that he "jumped out" of his car and was moving quickly toward appellant to "stop and question him" when appellant saw him and stopped. An innocent person might have reacted no differently in the circumstances. The trial Judge rejected the suggestion that appellant revealed an intent to abandon the bag or divest himself of it merely by placing it at his feet. Accordingly, we cannot find in these actions the requisite additional proof of an awareness of guilt. In light of Smith, the observations of the police at the scene provided no independent information compensating for the generality of the tip and the belated police confirmation of it.

Finally, we consider the application to this case of Alabama v. White, supra, the Supreme Court's most recent Discussion on this subject, on which appellant heavily relies. Appellant argues that the anonymous tip was inadequate under White because it contained no predictions as to anyone's future behavior, reciting only "conditions existing at the time of the tip," i.e., that drug sellers were at work at Fourteenth and Buchanan Streets. White, 110 S. Ct. at 2417 (quoting Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. at 245). It is true that in White, as in Gates, the Court deemed important the anonymous caller's "ability to predict [the defendant's] future behavior, because it demonstrated inside information -- a special familiarity with [the defendant's] affairs." 110 S. Ct. at 2417 (emphasis in original). The Court contrasted this with a tip reporting merely that a particular car would be found in front of a building, a condition presumably existing at the time of the call and which anyone could have "predicted." Id. Appellant argues that the tip here does not differ materially from the preceding example and suffers the same deficiency of information revealing inside knowledge.

White is not directly in point because the government does not rely here on the caller's "insider" status to confirm her basis of knowledge; rather it characterizes her as an eyewitness informant, and we have conceded some merit to that position. White establishes no mandatory condition that a tip predict future activity to be reliable, see Brown, supra, slip op. at 33 (under White, "accurate prediction of future events" has no "talismanic quality"), but stresses the decisiveness of such information where otherwise there is nothing from which a court can "conclude that [the caller] is either honest or his information reliable." White, 110 S. Ct. at 2415, quoting Gates, 462 U.S. at 227. Nevertheless, White does shed light on the reasonableness of the seizure in this case, and offers little help to the government's position. In White the tip supplied "a range of details" about "future actions of third parties ordinarily not easily predicted," and the police verified "significant aspects" of those predictions. Even so, in upholding the stop of the defendant the Court conceded that "it is a close case." Id. at 2417. White thus reaffirms that the standard of "some minimal level of objective justification to validate detention or seizure," INS v. Delgado, 466 U.S. 210, 217, 104 S. Ct. 1758, 80 L. Ed. 2d 247 (1984), is not bare of content. In the present case the call to the police furnished no details which they could confirm fifteen minutes later with any reasonable expectation that appellant was one of the persons reported selling drugs. In White's words, by that time there remained no "significant aspects" of the tip which could be confirmed to buttress its reliability. *fn8

The judgment of conviction is, accordingly, Reversed.

KERN, Senior Judge, Concurring:

When the police arrived at the intersection in northwest Washington where they effected a Terry-stop *fn1 of appellant, at least fifteen minutes had elapsed since they received a citizen's complaint by telephone that drugs were being sold there. The police had no descriptions from the complainant caller of the persons allegedly observed selling drugs.

Upon the arrival of the police, appellant, who was one of several persons there, walked away at a brisk pace. This court stated in Smith v. United States, 558 A.2d 312, 319 (D.C. 1989) (en banc), that "for flight to suggest consciousness of guilt. . . that flight . . . must be carried out at such a rate of speed. . . or in such an erratic or evasive manner that a guilty conscience is the most reasonable explanation." I agree that the reaction by appellant to the police arrival did not meet the strict Smith standard. *fn2

I share with the other members of this panel what the Dissent characterizes as "considerable doubt about the proper scope and application of the test" enunciated by the Concurring opinion adopted by the majority in Smith. I also agree that the Supreme Court's recent decision in California v. Hodari D., 111 S. Ct. 1547, 113 L. Ed. 2d 690 (1991), may cast further doubt upon the correctness of the standard in Smith. Nevertheless, this decision is the law presently and this division is bound by it. See M.A.P. v. Ryan, 285 A.2d 310 (D.C. 1971).

Therefore, I concur in the holding that under the particular circumstances here the Terry stop was not valid and the judgment of conviction must be reversed.

STEADMAN, Associate Judge, Dissenting: Given our precedents and the posture of this case as presented to us, Judge Farrell's opinion is not without considerable persuasive power. Nonetheless, I must register a Dissent.

An examination of the record of this case suggests that, even accepting the analysis of Judge Ferren's Smith concurrence, the manner of the appellant's departure upon the arrival of the police officers was more than that of a person who "chooses to leave the scene, even at a brisk pace." Smith v. United States, 558 A.2d at 319 (D.C. 1989). It appears that so concerned was appellant with events and so heedless of his safety that, in departing from the scene while looking at the first squad car, he stepped directly into the street into the path of a second arriving squad car, which was forced to stop suddenly to avoid hitting appellant. *fn1 This strikes me as the sort of "erratic or evasive manner" of departure that could be inconsistent with that of someone merely seeking to avoid an innocent encounter with the police. While it is indeed true that the trial court made no specific finding in this regard, the court did make clear its awareness of the relevance of a "consciousness of guilt" to the departure. *fn2 Thus, I think that appellant's departure could be a permissible factor to consider along with all the other circumstances here, enough taken together to justify a brief Terry stop. *fn3

I might add that I harbor considerable doubt about the proper scope and application of the test expressed in Judge Ferren's concurrence in Smith. The majority opinion in Smith, written by Judge Newman, signals that caution must be applied in dealing with departures upon the arrival of police, and sets forth the proposition that "to provide grounds for suspicion, therefore, the circumstances of the suspect's efforts to avoid the police must be such as permit[] a rational Conclusion that flight indicated a consciousness of guilt." 558 A.2d at 316 (quotations omitted). *fn4 However, it is only in the Concurring opinion by Judge Ferren, joined to be sure by the other members of the majority opinion, that the perhaps draconian requirement is set forth that for flight to suggest consciousness of guilt and thus be a permissible factor to be considered at all for Terry-stop analysis the departure "must be carried out at such a rate of speed, or in such an erratic or evasive manner that a guilty conscience is the most reasonable explanation." 558 A.2d at 319 (emphasis added). Otherwise, says Judge Ferren, "if the police do not otherwise have a legitimate basis for a Terry stop . . . then the fact that the person chooses to leave the scene, even at a brisk pace, cannot reasonably arouse suspicion." *fn5 Id. (The consequence of this analysis, of course, is that the departure at a brisk pace can never be one of several relevant factors in Terry analysis. If the police "otherwise" have a legitimate basis for a Terry stop, there is no need to consider the manner of departure at all.)

It seems to me that there is a significant difference between a test that requires that the manner of departure " permit a rational Conclusion that flight indicated a consciousness of guilt" *fn6 and one that requires that a guilty conscience be "the most reasonable explanation." Inherently, Terry stops deal with articulable suspicions, not proven facts, and often with actions that bear perfectly innocent explanations. It is the "totality of circumstances" that controls. It seems inconsistent with that approach to cabin off one particular fact, the manner of departure upon the known arrival of police officers, and permit that fact to be considered at all only if the most reasonable explanation is a guilty conscience. This standard would only seem appropriate to, and indeed would justify, a Terry stop based on the manner of departure alone. See State v. Johnson, 444 N.W.2d 824 (Minn. 1989) (police officer who observed motorist turn off main highway onto secondary road immediately after making eye contact and re-enter highway within one minute justified in concluding that motorist was attempting to avoid him and in subjecting vehicle to an investigative stop).

I think Judge Ferren's articulation of the requisite standard that must be met before a departure instigated by the arrival of the police may be considered at all is further brought into question by the recent Supreme Court decision of California v. Hodari D., Ill S. Ct. 1547 (1991). There two police officers in an unmarked car *fn7 came upon a group of youths who immediately took flight and were chased by the officers. The state had conceded that the officers did not have the requisite "reasonable suspicion" required for a Terry stop. Commented the Supreme Court: "That it would be unreasonable to stop, for brief inquiry, young men who scatter in panic upon the mere sighting of the police is not self-evident, and arguably contradicts proverbial common sense. See Proverbs 28:1 (The wicked flee when no man pursueth.)" While the Court found no need to decide the point, the skepticism expressed for a seven-Judge majority where no basis whatever existed for a Terry stop other than the flight itself suggests that a less-compelling manner of departure might be permissibly taken into account along with other relevant factors in determining the justification for a Terry stop.

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