In the recent case of Navarette v. California, 2014 WL 1577513 (April 22, 2014), the United States Supreme Court has expanded the ability of law enforcement to stop vehicles or persons based solely upon an anonymous tip. Federal criminal defense attorney Hope C. Lefeber explains that this decision represents a departure from prior decisions of the Supreme Court such as Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325 (1990) and Florida v. J.L. 529 U.S. 266 (2000) wherein the Court required some additional corroboration beyond an anonymous tip to create reasonable suspicion to justify a stop.
In Navarette, a 911 caller described a truck, with a certain license plate, that ran the caller's car off the road on a highway. Officers responded and located that truck on the highway approximately 15 minutes later, and pulled the truck over. As the officers approached the truck, they smelled marijuana, searched the truck bed, found 30 pounds of marijuana, and arrested the driver.
In holding that the police can stop a vehicle based upon an anonymous 911 tip in Navarette, the Supreme Court concluded that a 911 call bears adequate indicia of reliability because 911 calls are traceable to the location and identity of the caller. In addition, the Court relied upon the short time between the reported incident and the 911 call, suggesting that the caller had little time to fabricate the report. The Court also credited the fact that the tip was from an eyewitness.
Ms. Lefeber explains that this case represents a further erosion of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. As the dissenting justices stated in their dissenting opinion: "[t]he 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....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." Narette v. California 2014 WL 1577513.