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Supreme Court to decide on police stops based on anonymous tips

The Supreme Court has had suspicions regarding whether police search or seizure could be undertaken in Missouri or anywhere else based solely on anonymous tips. This question will be revisited for the first time in ten years when it hears the case of Navarette v. California. The case presents the question of whether police can stop a driver based on nothing but an anonymous tip of reckless driving.

In the case, an anonymous caller reported that a silver Ford pickup had run her off the road. The pickup was followed, and there was no sign of reckless driving. Police pulled the truck over and found two men and four large bags of marijuana. The defendants pled guilty to criminal charges but filed suit challenging the legality of the police stop. In order to pull over a car, an officer must have reasonable suspicion of a crime or traffic violation. An anonymous tip, they argued, did not entail reasonable suspicion.

In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that police were out of their rights in stopping and searching a teenager based on an anonymous tip that he was armed. That tip did not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Police may use the tip to follow up and attempt to corroborate it, but it does not, in itself provide reasonable suspicion. On the other hand, the Supreme Court ruling left the door open to exceptions in extreme cases such as if the tip was that a person was carrying a bomb.

The case has serious implications for criminal defense as it provides a means by which defense lawyers can cast doubt on the following of proper police protocol in the arrest. The system of law and order as protected by the Fourth Amendment prohibition against illegal search and seizure depends on police following protocols with regard to reasonable suspicion.

Source: MSNBC, "Can anonymous tips justify a police stop?", Dominic Perella, January 21, 2014

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