Fourth Amendment

April 23, 2014

Navarette v. California

Another blow to the Fourth Amendment delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 22, 2014.  The decision allows officers to stop vehicles solely upon an anonymous tip of wrong-doing.  Justice Scalia, dissenting, summarized the new rule for law enforcement as:  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.

In this case, the police did not know who the caller was, did not know her phone number, address or even where she called from.  The caller identified a silver Ford F-150, with a specific license plate number, and location, as running her off the road.  Police located the truck and followed it for five minutes.  During this five minute period, the driver of the truck drove impeccably, however because of the call, the police pulled the truck over for suspicion of drunk driving – and found 30lbs of marijuana.  Was there any reason to believe the driver was drunk?  No.  The driver couldn’t even be charged with reckless driving, because the witness was unknown.  Is there any indication that the unknown witness was telling the truth?  Again, no.

What are we left with after this decision?  Our freedom of movement on the road can be curtailed and interrupted by officers stopping us because of uncorroborated and anonymous tips, true or false, of possible drunk driving.  All freedom loving motorists need be cautious of malevolent 911 callers asserting traffic violations, causing stops, forcibly if necessary, by the police.