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Court split on burglary tipster issue

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A panel of Indiana Court of Appeals judges disagreed today as to whether the fact a tipster's identity was known by police was sufficient by itself to justify a police officer's stop of a juvenile.

In L.W. v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0909-JV-841, the majority concluded even though a tipster who identified himself to police as Brandon Shockley called to tell them that the burglary suspect officers were looking for was a tall, black male wearing a black shirt and black shoes, that information alone wasn't enough to justify an officer stopping L.W. for matching that description. When the officer approached L.W., he claimed L.W. looked like he wanted to run but didn't, and after a pat down, found he had a large number of coins in his pockets. A jug of coins was reported stolen in the burglary. After the officer learned a large amount of change was missing from the home, he arrested L.W. He then found some of the victim's jewelry and coins in L.W.'s pockets.

The officer didn't have reasonable suspicion to support an investigatory stop and the seizure violated L.W.'s Fourth Amendment rights, the majority concluded. Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor Indiana Supreme Court has held that information from a tipster whose identity is known to police is sufficient per se to establish reasonable suspicion, wrote Judge Edward Najam for the majority. Law enforcement never verified Shockley's identity and didn't know how reliable he was prior to the stop. The majority used State v. Glass, 769 N.E.2d 639, 643 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), to support their ruling.

"Reasonable suspicion requires more than mere conjecture," wrote Judge Najam. "The fact that a named caller with an untested reputation called the police does not in itself establish reasonable suspicion."

But Judge Cale Bradford dissented from his colleagues in their decision to reverse L.W.'s adjudication as a delinquent child for committing what would be Class B felony burglary, and Class D felony theft if committed by an adult. Judge Bradford believed the officer in the instant case met the threshold required to justify a Terry stop and that since Shockley's identity was known to police, that by itself justified the stop.

"Given that there are no circumstances casting suspicion on Shockley's honesty, his status as a concerned citizen further increases the reliability of his information," wrote Judge Bradford. "Finally, I believe that the tip indicates Shockley's inside knowledge, bolstering its reliability even more."

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