The Supreme Court Upholds Traffic Stop Based on Anonymous 911 Tip.
On April 22, 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that law enforcement personnel can pull over, detain, and search automobile drivers based solely on an anonymous 911 tip that the the automobile was being operated in a careless or reckless manner. In Navarette v. California, No. 12-9490 (Apr 22, 2104), the appellant, Navarette was pulled over after an anonymous 911 caller in phoned in a report that a pickup truck had run her off the road. The caller gave the location of the incident, plus the make and model of the truck and the license plate number. Based on this information, and this information alone, the police subsequently pulled over a truck matching that description despite following that truck for approximately five minutes and not observing any erratic or careless driving or any traffic violations. As the officers approached the vehicle following the stop, they allegedly smelled marijuana. The officers eventually found 30 pounds of marijuana in the truck and arrested the driver, Jose Prado Navarette.
This decision is a particulary alarming example of the continued erosion of Fourth Amendment protections especially as applied to automobile drivers. A fact that was specifically addressed in the dissent authored by Justice Scalia, arguably the second most conservative justice on the bench.
“The California Court of Appeal in this case relied on jurisprudence from the California Supreme Court (adopted as well by other courts) to the effect that “an anonymous and uncorroborated tip regarding a possibly intoxicated highway driver” provides without more the reasonable suspicion necessary to justify a stop…. Today’s opinion does not explicitly adopt such a departure from our normal Fourth Amendment requirement that anonymous tips must be corroborated; it purports to adhere to our prior cases, such as Florida v. J.L., 529 U. S. 266 (2000), and Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325 (1990). Be not deceived.
Law enforcement agencies follow closely our judgments on matters such as this, and they will identify at once our new rule: So long as the caller identifies where the car is, anonymous claims of a single instance of possibly careless or reckless driving, called in to 911, will support a traffic stop. This is not my concept, and I am sure would not be the Framers’, of a people secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. I would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal of California….
The Court’s opinion serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail consisting of two parts patent falsity: (1) that anonymous 911 reports of traffic violations are reliable so long as they correctly identify a car and its location, and (2) that a single instance of careless or reckless driving necessarily supports a reasonable suspicion of drunkenness. All the malevolent 911 caller need do is assert a traffic violation, and the targeted car will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, by the police. If the driver turns out not to be drunk (which will almost always be the case), the caller need fear no consequences, even if 911 knows his identity. After all, he never alleged drunkenness, but merely called in a traffic violation—and on that point his word is as good as his victim’s.
Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted Terry stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either. After today’s opinion all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of single instance of careless driving. I respectfully dissent.”
Springstead Bartish & Borgula Law, PLLC agrees wholeheartedly with Justice Scalia’s dissent in this matter.