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Can law enforcement gain a search warrant with just an anonymous tip?

Can law enforcement gain a search warrant with just an anonymous tip?

In November 2011, drug task force agents obtained a search warrant to go through a Minnesota man’s home. Law enforcement found several guns as well as more than 14 pounds of marijuana, according to CBS Minnesota. Just a few weeks later, an anonymous source called agents to let them know they had missed a secret room in the home that contained more drugs. After putting together another search warrant, agents found more than $1 million worth of marijuana.

The owner of the home was convicted of first degree possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. He was sentenced to more than nine years in prison. As any drug crime lawyer Minnesota knows, this case points to the controversial issue of executing a search warrant based on a tip from an anonymous source.

Defining legal searches

Under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, people are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. A search warrant is generally required to support a search of someone’s person or home, though there are some exceptions.

According to Minnesota statute, a judge may issue a search warrant if there is probable cause for the warrant to be issued, and the warrant request abides by lawful procedures. From there, law enforcement may only search the property outlined in the warrant.

On a tip

There are several types of people who may provide law enforcement with a tip, including the following:

  • A professional informant: Someone who law enforcement regularly work with regarding crimes and has established credibility.
  • A lay informant: Someone, such as a neighbor, who witnesses a crime and reports it and is presumed to be credible.
  • An anonymous informant: Someone who lacks a track record of reliability and, by definition, cannot be presumed to be credible.

Questions arise when law enforcement rely on anonymous tips because there is no way to measure the credibility of the informant.

As a drug crime lawyer in Minnesota may have seen, the U.S. Supreme Court has several times allowed for anonymous tips to substantiate probable cause and reasonable suspicions. In a case in Illinois, law enforcement used information from an anonymous letter to find $100,000 worth of drugs and make an arrest. The nation’s high court ruled that because agents could corroborate some of the information from the letter, the tip was credible enough to suffice the issuance of a warrant.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme court upheld a decision in California that a traffic stop based on an anonymous tip complied with the Fourth Amendment. Despite these and other rulings supporting the practice, tips from anonymous sources still raise legitimate concerns regarding credibility. Anyone with questions about legal search warrant execution should consult with a drug crime lawyer in Minnesota.

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