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U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Case Regarding Constitutionality of Car Stop Based off of Anonymous 911 Tip

October 14, 2013

State and federal courts have been split over the issue of whether or not police officers can pull over a car based solely off of an anonymous 911 call reporting a potential drunk or reckless driver, without any corroboration by police of the driver’s actions.  The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that it will hear such a case this January.

The case involves two men who were pulled over in California after police received an anonymous tip that a silver Ford F150 truck was driving erratically, and had run another driver off the road.  Upon locating a vehicle that matched the tipster’s description of the model, color, and license plate of the vehicle, police officers stopped it.  The officers did not actually observe the vehicle being driven recklessly before stopping it.  The officers alleged that, upon approaching the vehicle, they smelled marijuana, which gave rise to probable cause to search the truck.  They found several bags of marijuana and arrested the driver and his passenger on suspicion of drug possession.  The two men pled guilty and then appealed, arguing that the stop and subsequent arrest violated their Fourth Amendment rights because the officers did not observe the alleged violations firsthand, and because anonymous tips are usually insufficient to search or detain someone.

The Court’s ruling will have national effects and may result in many more people being pulled on suspicion of DWI over based solely on an anonymous informant’s tip.  The case may have additional implications for police observations such as seatbelt violations, cell phone infractions and red light violations. It is worth noting that the Court previously declined to hear a similar case from Virginia after the state supreme court reversed a conviction where an anonymous tip alerted police to a drunk driver.

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