The Fellow Officer Rule

Also known as the Doctrine of Collective Knowledge

Quoted from

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The "fellow officer" rule permits an officer to rely upon information supplied by fellow officers when making an arrest.1 This doctrine is not statutory in origin; rather, it has its basis in the United States Supreme Court decision of Whiteley v. Warden, 401 U.S. 560 (1971). Here, the Supreme Court held that "police officers called upon to aid other officers in executing arrest warrants are entitled to assume that the officers requesting aid offered the magistrate the information requisite to support an independent judicial assessment of probable cause."2 The Florida Supreme Court considered the fellow officer rule in Johnson v. State, 660 So. 2d 648 (Fla. 1995). The court more broadly recognized the rule as one by which "information shared by officers investigating a crime is imputed to any one of their number, even those from different agencies working together."3 The court further recognized that the fellow officer doctrine was "sweeping" in its application, but subject to any limitations imposed by federal Fourth Amendment analysis.4

This rule is also sometimes called the "collective knowledge" doctrine.5 Under this doctrine, probable cause is determined by the collective knowledge of all officers, even if no individual officer is possessed with sufficient information alone to constitute probable cause.6 It permits arresting officers to rely on the knowledge of other officers, even if those officers are not within the same agency or jurisdiction.7 Indeed, the other officers may even be in another state.8 When information is received, the arresting officer may assume the information has a reasonable basis in truth.9 The information may be in the form of an oral directive or a written bulletin.10

Although most Florida cases addressing the fellow officer rule refer to information received from other officers, at least one appellate court has ruled that this information may be supplied by any employee of a law enforcement agency, such as a dispatcher.11 However, the case law requires that a traceable link exist from the initial source of the information to the arresting officer.12 But, there is no requirement that the information actually be communicated to the arresting officer so long as the information exists within the law enforcement community.13 Once the information is obtained by any officer, it is imputed to all other officers.14

In determining probable cause to arrest under the fellow officer rule, an officer is entitled to rely on hearsay, even though such hearsay would be inadmissible at trial.15 An officer is also likely entitled to rely on other evidence which would be inadmissible at trial, including privileged information.16 If, however, the original officer relied on information later shown to be inaccurate, then probable cause may be vitiated, rendering the arrest unlawful.17

In Layman's Terms: It suggests other officers can use knowledge from any other officer to build a clearer picture of the events unfolding and leading to arrest, including hearsay from potential witnesses which is not admissible in court. Basically this rule can be abused as a civil rights "loophole" by overly aggressive law enforcement. It says every case is an unknown puzzle to the officer(s) who arrive and in the process of being brought up to speed, they can add and collect even inadmissible "evidence" in order to charge some one. (See related cases Florida v. Bowers and Herring V. United States).

One editor of this website witnessed a case in Rhode Island where the state wanted someone asserting innocence to take a plea. He refused. One day, without notice, a swat team and a team of men in full chemical gear stormed his house blocking off streets for hours. It was later said by the prosecutor that, "Some guy at some bar gave us information that you were making bombs in your basement." They had hoped to find something, anything to force him into a plea. He continued to refuse and one day, again without notice, he read in the local papers that his case had been dropped after 5 years.


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