A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could potentially reduce DUI and other hazardous road crimes by allowing police to stop cars on the basis of anonymous tips to hotlines, including 911.
The 5-4 decision in Navarette v. California holds that such stops don’t violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, even in cases where the arresting officer never observe the vehicle swerving, speeding or otherwise engaged in a criminal action.
New York City drunk driving injury lawyers recognize that this could have a sizable impact on the number of dangerous drivers removed from the road. By allowing police to act on anonymous tips as opposed to waiting to personally observe the driver commit a violation, the number of DUI arrests will likely increase, hopefully driving down the number of DUI accidents and injuries.
The case started back in the summer of 2008, when a dispatcher in California received a report from an anonymous 911 caller that the driver of a pickup truck had forced another vehicle off the road. The caller did not provide a name, however the report did include a detailed description of the vehicle, as well as a license plate number.
A short time later, an officer in the vicinity spotted a truck matching that description. The officer pulled the driver over, despite the fact that he did not witnessed any moving violations and lacked any reason aside from the caller’s tip to believe the driver was engaged in illegal activity.
Officers searched the vehicle after detecting a strong odor of marijuana. Inside, they found nearly three dozen pounds of marijuana.
The defendants filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained in the stop, arguing there was no valid reason for the stop in the first place. However, the California courts rejected this argument, and so too did the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the past, courts have held that officers can’t rely solely on an anonymous tip to stop and search a pedestrian, with the primary fear being that anonymous callers might unfairly target certain people and subject them to potentially embarrassing searches. However, the justices agreed in the Navarette decision that an officer has reasonable suspicion if the tipster reports that a vehicle was swerving, or speeding or otherwise engaging in reckless driving.
The court reasoned that a caller to 911 is less likely to make up a false report because most people understand that dispatches have tracking abilities that would make it possible to root out the source of a potential phony call. Plus, in this case, there was a fairly short amount of time between the time of the incident, the time the call was placed and the time the officer observed the vehicle, meaning it was unlikely that the caller had enough time to fabricate the details.
Just because someone is pulled over, of course, doesn’t mean there will be enough evidence to initiate an arrest. However, for drivers who may be posing a danger by operating a vehicle while intoxicated, this provides police with one more tool to get them off the road.
The Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Navarette v. California, April 22, 2014, U.S. Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Can You be Held Liable for Knowingly Letting Another Drive Drunk in New York? May 17, 2012, New York City DUI Injury Lawyer Blog