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Case argues anonymous tip is not cause for traffic stop

New York drivers may be interested to learn that a court case brought before the Supreme Court questioned whether an anonymous tip can lead to a legal traffic stop. The case questioning the legality of traffic stops based on anonymous calls, Navarette v. California, began on Jan. 23.

The case arose from an incident that began when officers were dispatched after a vehicle was reported via an anonymous tip to be driving recklessly. When they found the vehicle with the matching description and license plate, they followed for several minutes but did not observe reckless driving. Regardless, they conducted a traffic stop, and four large bags of marijuana were recovered from the two men who were inside the vehicle. They eventually pleaded guilty to the associated drug charges, but argued that officers did not conduct a legal traffic stop. The court is expected to make a decision by June.

A decision in an earlier case, Florida v. J.L. in 2000, found that police officers did not have reasonable suspicion when they searched a teenager after an anonymous tipper stated that he had a gun. Part of the discussion following the decision revealed that Justice Ginsburg was worried that ruling that anonymous tips were legal cause to search an individual or vehicle would make it too easy for individuals to seek revenge. The plaintiffs in the Navarette case believe that their case is similar.

In order to conduct a traffic stop, police officers must have reasonable suspicion. Because anonymous tips could be called in by anyone for any reason, they may not be acceptable as a cause for the traffic stop in court. If officers pull over a person even though they did not observe the behavior described in the anonymous tip, and it is found that the person was drunk driving, the accused person may be able to have the charges dismissed.

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

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