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Could Supreme Court ruling spark retaliatory road rage?

Have you ticked anybody off today, accidentally or otherwise? If you have, you might want to keep a watch in your rearview mirror as you ply the highways around Virginia Beach.

Under a U.S. Supreme Court decision issued this week, police don't need anything more than some specific details from an anonymous 911 caller to justify pulling you over, perhaps on suspicion of driving under the influence. And who knows what might happen from there? It could be criminal charges.

What spurs this observation is the high court's 5-4 ruling in connection with a case out of California. Not only were the justices closely divided, but the conflict of opinion also ended up pitting two conservative justices against each other.

The background on the 2008 case is this. A driver in a pickup truck got pulled over by police in California. The basis of the stop was a 911 call from an anonymous tipster who said she had been run off the road.

She provided detail enough about the purported perpetrator that officers began following a suspect truck. They did that for more than five minutes. At no time did officers spot the vehicle's driver do anything wrong or show signs of driving impaired. But they pulled him over anyway on the basis of the tip and claimed suspicion of drunk driving. Subsequently, they found 30 pounds of marijuana in the truck and arrested the man.

The truck driver's claim on appeal had been that the police had no justification to make the stop based on officers' observations. It amounted to an illegal stop and search. The high court majority, led by Justice Clarence Thomas, disagreed. They said the anonymous caller gave enough information for officers to have reason to make the stop, even though they never witnessed any infractions.

In the dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia described the majority decision as a "freedom-destroying cocktail" that puts everyone on the road at risk of being detained by police solely on a phone tip, regardless of whether it is true or not. As he puts it, "All the malevolent 911 caller need do is assert a traffic violation, and the targeted car will be stopped."

The specific effect of the decision, of course, depends on the circumstances of any given case. To assess the implications, those charged should contact an attorney.

Source: The Blaze, "Four Points From Scalia’s Scathing Dissent in Supreme Court Ruling to Allow Searches Based on Anonymous Tips," Li Klimas, April 23, 2014

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