The Supreme Court agreed to hear an important case out of California in its upcoming term that could have an important impact on how cops apprehend some drunk driving suspects. The case deals with the ability of officers to stop a car after receiving an anonymous tip saying that the person behind the wheel had been driving recklessly. Such tips are frequently used to justify drunk driving arrests. Many attorneys challenge such traffic stops as part of their defense in DUI Cases and again are being called into question in this new case.
The case, Navarette v. California, began back in 2008 when Lorenzo Navarette was driving along Highway 1. Another driver, who claimed to have been run off the road by a reckless Navarette, called 911 and alerted the California Highway Patrol to the problematic driver. The anonymous tipster managed to write down the license plate number and it was only a matter of time before two Highway Patrol troopers spotted the truck and pulled Navarette over.
As the officers approached the car they say they noticed the aroma of marijuana and eventually spotted several bags of the drug in the bed of the truck. Navarette unsuccessfully challenged the validity of the stop and subsequent search, but found his requests denied. As a result, Navarette pled guilty to transporting marijuana and spent several months in jail.
Navarette decided to appeal his case to a federal court which chose to uphold his drug conviction. The court says that the law in California is clear that police can rely on anonymous tips about reckless driving as a basis for pulling a car over. The court noted that the California Supreme Court has specifically held that officers do not need to personally witness any reckless driving to establish the reasonable suspicion of illegal activity necessary to justify a stop. The court ultimately held that the tip was all the justification officers needed to stop Navarette’s truck and that no firsthand evidence of recklessness needed to be witnessed by the officers.
The U.S. Supreme Court will now tackle the very same issue and determine whether the California court was correct. Previously the Supreme Court has not shown itself to be fond of anonymous tips. Back in 2000, the Court overturned a conviction for a man who was searched simply because he matched the description of an anonymous tipster who claimed that someone had a bus stop had been carrying a weapon. The Supreme Court unanimously wrote that completely anonymous tips are often unreliable and might even have a malicious intent, two things that limit their legal force. Given the significance of the ruling, drunk driving defendants across the country eagerly await word from the Supreme Court about whether anonymous tips can be used as sole justification for traffic stops.
Source: “Supreme Court to hear case on anonymous tips,” by Bob Egelko, published at SFGate.com.