On Tuesday, April 22, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers can pull motorists over and perform searches based on tips from anonymous 9-1-1 callers.
Back in August of 2008, an anonymous 9-1-1 tipster informed police that she had been run off the road by the driver of a pickup truck. She provided the make, model and license plate number of the vehicle. Police later pulled over a truck matching the tipster’s description. The officers smelled marijuana as they approached the vehicle and eventually found 30 pounds of marijuana inside the pickup. They arrested the driver.
The driver challenged the search and arrest as unconstitutional. He said that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to pull him over because they knew nothing about the tipster’s identity or reliability. The Supreme Court disagreed.
On April 22, a 5-4 decision gave police new authority to rely on information provided by anonymous tipsters. The decision split the court’s two most conservative justices. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority and Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the dissent.
The majority argued that relying on 9-1-1 tips is reasonable because 9-1-1 calls can be tracked and recorded, making it possible to verify the truth or reliability of the tipster’s story. In the dissent, Scalia argued that relying on anonymous 9-1-1 tips encourage “malevolent” tipsters to make false reports.
Scalia also brought up the fact that law enforcement had followed the driver of the pickup truck for five minutes before pulling him over, during which time the driver had shown no signs of intoxication. Yet the officers had still pulled him over, resulting in the discovery of marijuana and the driver’s arrest.
Once the ruling was made, Scalia stated “After today’s opinion, all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk.”
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