The Supreme Court today ruled that an anonymous tip is enough cause for police to pull over a driver.
A 5-4 ruling upheld the conviction of a California man. In August of 2008, an anonymous woman called 911 to report a pickup that ran her off the road. The woman was able to give the color, make, and license plate number of the pickup to authorities.
Highway patrol located the pickup and followed it for 5 minutes before pulling it over. As officers were walking toward the pickup, they reportedly smelled marijuana. The officers found 30 pounds of it in the pickup’s bed.
The driver, Jose Prado Navarette, was arrested and subsequently pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana and were sentenced to 90 days in jail. He later appealed the ruling, stating the officer had no legal grounds to pull him over.
The appeal process went all the way to the Supreme Court who took on the case to address whether an anonymous 911 call is reliable enough to justify a vehicle stop, and whether being forced off the road is a sign that the driver possesses an ongoing danger, giving police the right to make a stop.
The majority was led by Justice Clarence Thomas. It was their determination that since the caller provided the license plate number that matched the pickup, and the highway patrols ability to locate the suspects vehicle within 18 minutes of the 911 call, the anonymous call was reliable.
The Justices also argued that the pickup running a vehicle off the road suggests the driver had impaired judgment and could have been driving drunk, which gives the police the right to make the stop.
The justices who ruled in the minority argued that 911 caller never gave any indication the driver was drunk, and running a vehicle off the road could be the effect of a number of things other than being intoxicated.
“The truck might have swerved to avoid an animal, a pothole, or a jaywalking pedestrian,” Justice Antonin Scalia said. Even if the driver was acting recklessly intoxication was an “unlikely reason,” and far too improbable to justify a vehicle stop.
What’s your take on the Supreme Courts ruling? It’s clear by their 5-4 decision that it’s not a black and white issue. Do you think an anonymous call should give police authority to make a stop in order to keep dangerous and drunk drivers off the road? Or do you think the police should have to witness a violation in order to pull you over?