When police stop a driver on the basis of a tip from an anonymous caller; that is, if officers never witness the violation alleged by the tipster, is the stop legal?
Federal and state courts are split on the question. But the U.S. Supreme Court is now poised to offer some possible clarification on the issue, and a driving under the influence case out of Virginia from four years ago is being cited as the basis for the appeal.
In that drunk driving case, a defendant was arrested for driving while intoxicated. The only apparent basis of the arrest was the word of an anonymous caller. There's no indication officers ever saw any impaired driving themselves.
The matter reached the Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled that the defendant's rights against illegal search and seizure had been violated. When the matter was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices refused to hear the case.
Earlier this month, the high court decided to address the issue of anonymous tip arrests in a case out of California. In this case, two brothers are appealing conviction after having pleaded guilty to a charge of transporting marijuana. They were brought up on those charges following a stop for alleged reckless driving.
As in the Virginia case, the only basis of the police action was a 911 tip from an anonymous caller. The defendants in this latest case say that should not be sufficient to warrant a stop.
The point to take away from this is that, even though DUI and other criminal cases may seem open and shut, there may be legal grounds upon which to challenge a verdict. And when individual rights and freedoms are at stake, they deserve to be fought for.
Source: ABC News, “Court: Is Anonymous Tip Enough for Traffic Stop?” Mark Sherman, Oct. 1, 2013