The Supreme Court has ruled that police only need an anonymous tip – and no other evidence — to pull a vehicle over and search it, the United States Supreme Court has ruled.
The ruling in a case called Prado Navarette et al vs. California drastically expands law enforcement’s ability to stop vehicles.
The case was brought by a man named Lorenzo Prado Navarette, who was pulled over because his truck matched a description from an anonymous 911 caller who said the driver was drunk. Navarette, though, had not been drinking and his driving was not erratic
During the stop the California Highway Patrol found 30 pounds of marijuana in Navarette’s truck and arrested him.
The ruling divided the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc, with Justice Antonin Scalia – a leading conservative – writing the dissent. He wrote a scathing dissent and said the ruling sets a precedent that could be a major threat to individual freedoms.
“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,” Scalia wrote.
“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,” Scalia charged. “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.”
Scalia alleges that a person who had a grudge, for instance, could call 911 and falsely charge drunken driving in order to get that person pulled over. To make matters worse, police could pull any vehicle over that matches the description. This could make it easier than ever for law enforcement to stop vehicles and confiscate cash or guns.
Searches Based On Anonymous Tips Constitutional
Five Supreme Court justices believe that the highway patrol’s actions did not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. In the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the Fourth Amendment allows what he calls “brief investigative stops” of vehicles.
“The traffic stop complied with the Fourth Amendment because, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the truck’s driver was intoxicated,” Thomas wrote. Navarette’s attorneys argued that the stop violated the Fourth Amendment because it was based on an anonymous tip.
Thomas noted that the 911 call that led to the arrests of Navarette and another man came from a woman who claimed to have been run off the road by a drunk driver. Thomas also wrote that police have the right to pull vehicles over and search them when they have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
Freedom of Movement Threatened?
The Navarette decision gives police a blank check to stop any vehicle anytime as long as they have an anonymous tip, Scalia charged. He also alleged that it could threaten Americans’ freedom of movement.
“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 a single instance of careless driving,” Scalia concluded.
Some of the recent incidents of police stops and searches of vehicles reported by Off the Grid News indicate that Scalia’s concerns are valid. Drivers around the United States have reported having vehicles searched on questionable grounds and having cash, guns and other assets seized by officers without warrants.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined Scalia in his dissent. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito joined the majority opinion written by Thomas.
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