The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that police officers have the authority to stop cars and question drivers based on anonymous 911 tips.
In a 5-4 decision, the court held that stops based on anonymous tips do not amount to an unreasonable search or seizure, even if the officer did not observe the vehicle speeding or swerving. “The decision affirms a ruling of the California courts.”
The case began in August 2008 when an anonymous call was made to 911 dispatch in Mendocino County reporting that a pickup truck had forced another vehicle off the road. Although the caller did not give out their personal information, a detailed description of the truck and the license plate number were reported.
Police responded to the dispatch and pulled over the truck that matched the description. Upon pulling over the truck, officers found 30 pounds of marijuana. The two men in the truck, Lorenzo Navarette and Jose Navarette, were arrested and later convicted of trafficking marijuana. The men later appealed and argued that the stop and search violated their rights under the 4th Amendment.
“In the past the court said that police officers could not rely on an anonymous tip to stop and search a pedestrian. The court worried that anonymous callers could unfairly target people for embarrassing searches.” However, Tuesday’s ruling now allows officers to make stops based on anonymous tips that provide enough detail to give rise to a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity. In this case, a vehicle forcing another vehicle off the road.