Ohio Northern University Law Review
Unfortunately for individual liberty, and the inestimable right to personal security, the Supreme Court's extraneous language in its otherwise, well-reasoned decision in Florida v. J.L., and the lower federal courts' interpretation of that extraneous language, have jeopardized the Constitutional right to be free from capricious stops and frivolous frisks, both of which necessarily intrude on the sanctity of the person and sometimes "inflict great indignity and arouse strong resentment . . . ." When read logically and narrowly, the J.L. decision holds that an anonymous telephone tip, alone, does not give law enforcement a sufficient legal basis to stop or frisk a suspect. Nevertheless, in dicta, the Court hypothesized about some extreme danger to the public that might justify a warrantless search based on an anonymous tip, even without probable cause and absent any showing that the anonymous tip was reliable. Based on that dicta in J.L., the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals approved a warrantless search of a suspect's home "based largely on information provided by an anonymous caller" who reported that arguing and gunshots were emanating from a specific address. The Eleventh Circuit justified the search by construing the report as one of "a serious threat to human life."
If federal courts adopt the reasoning from the dicta in J.L., the protections of the Fourth Amendment will vanish. Permitting law enforcement officers to conduct a Terry stop or, worse, a search of someone's home based on an anonymous, but urgent, report of danger or criminal conduct would "convert the Terry decision from a narrow exception... into one that swallows the general rule that searches are 'reasonable' only if based on probable cause."
Melanie D. Wilson, Since When Is Dicta Enough to Trump Fourth Amendment Rights? The Aftermath of Florida v. J.L., 31 Ohio N.U. L. Rev. 211 (2005).