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Allen v State tipsters must give more information than Dodge Charger for police stop

Allen v. State, A13A1051, November 22, 2013. The Court of Appeals reversed the denial of Deondrez Allen’s motion to suppress the marijuana found in her Dodge Charger. A be on the lookout or BOLO was given for a Silver Dodge Charger that was involved in several armed robberies over days in unincorporated Fulton County on Flat Shoals Road. The last armed robbery was at least 3 hours earlier or maybe the previous day.  The BOLO did not give the direction of travel or the number of occupations just that the vehicle contained black males. To justify a traffic stop under the Constitution, a police officer must have articulable suspicion of criminal activity.  The suspicion must be more than a mere hunch or guesswork.  In Vansant v. State, 264 Ga. 319 (1994), the Georgia Supreme Court held in the seminal case on anonymous tipsters that there must be sufficient particularized information to justify a traffic stop based on a tip alone.  A white van involved in a hit and run a mile away is insufficient absent some corroboration of criminal activity even when the tipster gave the name of the driver, noted that the driver was intoxicated, there were few other cars in the area and failed to stop for the police flashing blue lights alone.  The van in Vansant, supra, was followed for half a mile and committed no traffic violations.  Again, in State v. Dias, 284 Ga. App. 10 (642 SE2d 925) (2007), the tip was for  “a maroonish or a brownish color either a Ford Taurus or a Tempo, or something like that, leaving the scene [of a shopping center burglary] with a white male occupant” who may have been wearing a baseball cap and who was traveling “east on Oakridge from Radium and Oakridge.” Id. at 12 (2). That description was held to be fatally general.

In this case, the color was insufficiently particular and described as silver or dark. No information regarding the year of the car or its condition.  The only information given about the occupants were their race and gender not even the number of occupants. No particular street or direction of travel was given. The crime was at least three hours old, much longer than the period between the BOLOs and stops in Vansant and Dias which were instantaneous. Allen’s vehicle was stopped approximately three miles from the crime scene, a greater distance than the stops in Vansant (one mile) and Dias (two miles). Under these circumstances, the BOLO was too generalized to justify the stop.

This is particularly timely as WSB-TV the local television news station in Fulton County just ran an investigative report about Police profiling Dodge Chargers on November 1st, 2013.

-Author: George C. Creal, Jr.