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The Courts Privacy United States

Supreme Court OKs Stop and Search Based On Anonymous 911 Tips 461

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the someone-said-you-were-a-sinner dept.
An anonymous reader writes "On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police officers are legally allowed to stop and search vehicles based solely on anonymous 911 tips. Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority opinion, reasoned that 'a 911 call has some features that allow for identifying and tracking callers' as well as for recording their calls, both of which he believed gave anonymous callers enough reliability for police officers to act on their tips with reasonable suspicion against the people being reported.

The specific case before them involved an anonymous woman who called 911 to report a driver who forced her off the road. She gave the driver's license plate number and the make and model of his car as well as the location of the incident in question. Police officers later found him, pulled him over, smelled marijuana, and searched his car. They found 30 pounds of weed and subsequently arrested the driver. The driver later challenged the constitutionality of the arrest, claiming that a tip from an anonymous source was unreliable and therefore failed to meet the criteria of reasonable suspicion, which would have justified the stop and search. Five of the nine justices disagreed with him."
The ruling itself (PDF).
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Supreme Court OKs Stop and Search Based On Anonymous 911 Tips

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  • by tekrat (242117) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:37AM (#46822503) Homepage Journal

    I've got this hankerin' to call 911.
    This law could get repealed mighty quick if it's senators and congressmen getting pulled over from anonymous tips.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:45AM (#46822587)

    Shows the level of maturity on slashdot, I suppose.
    False police reports are a felony.

  • by BitZtream (692029) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:45AM (#46822589)

    What pay phone? The only 3 that still exist in the US are also covered by cameras I'm sure.

  • Free warrant! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by netsavior (627338) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:48AM (#46822637)
    1) Police officer sees car he wants to search
    2) Police officer calls 911 placing an anon tip
    3) Police officer gets to do whatever the hell he wants.

    historically, authority figures getting to do whatever the hell they want has worked out pretty well.
  • by Jahoda (2715225) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:58AM (#46822747) Homepage
    Parallel Construction. You'll pardon me if I don't believe a single word from the mouths of our American "law enforcement" and "justice" system. Amazing that he just happened to have those 30 pounds of weed.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:58AM (#46822757) Homepage

    Yes but that information will not be included if the anonymous tip came from other police or from a burner phone located in the police car.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:11AM (#46822885) Homepage Journal

    What pay phone? The only 3 that still exist in the US are also covered by cameras I'm sure.

    I used to think this way myself, until I started paying more attention to my surroundings.

    There are actually a LOT of pay phones still in service, you just have to know where to look for them; most of the ones I've seen as of late were in gas station parking lots.

  • by phillk6751 (654352) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:14AM (#46822939)

    As to the inference that the truck's driver was drunk, Scalia pointed out that the police officers here followed the pickup for over five minutes — and "five minutes is a long time" — without any indication of drunken driving or even bad driving. "After today's opinion," said Scalia, "all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk ... "

    Actually sounds Scalia was the dissenting opinion, period. I tend to agree with the quoted point of view of Scalia...an anonymous 911 call prompts police to target this driver, the driver gives NO indication of dui/reckless/endangering driving, yet the cops STILL pull the guy over, and win in court because of a "technicality". Scalia is right, we are all at risk for abuse of power by cops (not only that, but the justice system ruling in favor of the loss of our freedoms that are OWED to us by the Constitution).

  • by Dishevel (1105119) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:19AM (#46822987)
    While following the car they found nothing to warrant them pulling the car over. The only "suspicion" they had was an anonymous call.

    While it may have worked out ok in this situation it is a very bad president. I do not want to be pulled over for no fucking reason.

  • by omnichad (1198475) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:20AM (#46822995) Homepage

    To equate it to something domestic, think of a noise complaint. The officer can come to your door and knock. If you answer and they see something inside, or they see something suspicous while they're there, they would still have to get a warrant. The difference in this case, is that they pulled someone over and smelled something. Pulling someone over does not require probable cause - only reasonable suspicion. The anonymous tip satisfies that just fine. The smell they found during the stop is the probable cause. And the car isn't quite so secure against search as a home. At least according to the courts.

  • Re:This is wrong! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by king neckbeard (1801738) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:20AM (#46823007)
    Funny how their sense of smell works. They can recognize a potent marijuana smell in a vehicle that has never contained marijuana if the occupants look like they smell like marijuana.
  • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:27AM (#46823059)
    The problem is that we know that this case seems likely to be one of parallel construction. There's a good chance this 'anonymous woman' worked for a three letter agency and had obtained unlawful evidence. Since that wouldn't be admissible in court, she called the local police, said that someone "forced her off the road *wink wink nudge nudge*", and she was able to present an unusual amount of detailed information for someone who was just run off the road.
  • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:32AM (#46823123)

    They got a call, including plate number and location, that a car had run someone off the road.

    What they did not have was any evidence that someone was actually run off the road.

    Nor did they have any evidence that the driver of the suspect vehicle was in any way impaired (they followed him for five minutes without seeing any erratic driving).

    For all we know, the "anonymous caller" could have been his ex trying to get him in trouble, or a member of a rival drug gang trying to get his payload confiscated....

  • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:38AM (#46823207)
    Or more likely, a government agent with information obtained illegally.
  • by TheCarp (96830) <`ten.tenaprac' `ta' `cjs'> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:44AM (#46823287) Homepage

    > For all we know, the "anonymous caller" could have been his ex trying to get him in trouble, or a member of a
    > rival drug gang trying to get his payload confiscated....

    Exactly, and you know....I know people with exes who would pull shit like that. I mean for fucks sake, when my friend's wife went down to report his ex-wife punching her, she found the ex-wife was already down there filing a report saying that she was the one punched. Now, after years of back and forth battles (custody would you believe) in and out of court, including false charges of various kinds,

    More than that though.... if there is no need to go back and verify the original tip, if it can be anonymous....then the police can phone in their own tips! This is yet more parallell construction bullshit. How do we even know there was such a woman? For all we really know it was a cop, or the wife of a cop, making a call to cover up the real source of the information....ie a criminal conspiracy to deny the driver the right to a fair trial.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:45AM (#46823295)

    Use a burner phone. I'm sure that's what the police will do when they need reasonable suspicion.

  • by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:47AM (#46823315) Journal

    Bad driving *does* give reasonable suspicion of impairment, and even an anonymous report is certainly sufficient cause to stop the vehicle and briefly question the driver... which in general would amount to them just saying that they received a report about the vehicle... Since they had not personally witnessed the erratic driving, they would have had no basis to even ask him to get outside of his vehicle, but would have just questioned him through an open window, After quickly checking to see if there were any other reports about the vehicle, they would have asked the driver if they had anything to drink that evening. If the answer was no, and they had no reason to suspect the person was lying (ie, he was not visibly impaired), then they would have just let the person go.

    It was only after they had stopped the vehicle and actually questioned the guy that gave them further reasonable suspicion to search his vehicle, and find that he was guilty of another crime.

  • by afidel (530433) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:49AM (#46823359)

    Dude, with 30lbs of marijuana in the car even a coke fiend with a head cold could have smelled the stuff and become suspicious that the car contained illegal contraband. I personally am in favor of legalization, but as long as it's illegal I fully acknowledge that someone carrying that amount of stuff is going to give enough signals to the police to easily justify a search, just like grow houses that the cops can smell from public places. The problem is drugs being against the law, not that police officers confronted with obvious signs of illegal behavior are conducting searches based on reasonable suspicion. The question at hand was whether an anonymous call to 911 could justify pulling over a vehicle, not whether a cop who smells a vehicle reeking of drugs has a reasonable enough suspicion to conduct a search.

  • by kilfarsnar (561956) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @11:01AM (#46823489)

    Shows the level of maturity on slashdot, I suppose. False police reports are a felony.

    Who says it's false? I'm sure if I followed an important public figure around for a while I could catch him rolling a stop sign or two.

  • Our congress critters gave themselves legislative plates it's the don't even think about it to a cop.

    Yup. Makes me wonder if their family members also get those plates.

  • by Agent0013 (828350) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @11:24AM (#46823831) Journal
    Which just shows that the "anonymous" call was actually placed by the DEA or NSA or whoever had some illegally gotten information. Remember how they like to perform what they call "Parallel Construction". And now the supreme court has ruled that OK.
  • Re:Uh... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jittles (1613415) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @11:25AM (#46823851)

    My issue in this case is assume he didn't have weed in his car, what exactly were they going to do to him? They track him down, pull him over and then what do they do? They have an anonymous call saying he forced someone off the road, but no evidence of it. They have no video, no witnesses, not even a real person willing to say they were run off the road. So they pull him over and ask him if he ran someone off the road? And when he obviously says no they just let him go? There was nothing they could do to him unless there is some other secondary issue like in this case.

    I can see now a lot of anonymous tips coming in from pay phones near where cops are hanging out. They suspect someone has drugs in their car, they just make an anonymous tip about the car doing something bad and then they have a reason to pull them over.

    I would expect the officer to pull him over, make sure he's licensed and insured, and then explain that there was a complaint that he was driving recklessly. Just as I would expect the police to come and knock on my neighbor's door for if someone called and claimed they heard someone being beaten inside. They don't have to issue a citation, or search the person's property. Just the act of stopping the person can dissuade them from continuing their behavior. The moral of the story is to not drive like a total jackass when you have 30 pounds of marijuana in your car.

    I'm perfectly fine with the police acting on tips from citizens. Where this becomes a problem is when the "anonymous tipster" is actually a government agent. If you allow this sort of tip to be used, it can definitely be abused by the government.

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @11:31AM (#46823919) Journal

    No, don't go after Senators' spouses and children, go after their mistresses. Really hit them where they live.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @12:08PM (#46824397)

    Ted Kennedy killed someone with his car while drunk and nothing came of it. So good luck with those reports.

  • by Arker (91948) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @12:45PM (#46824869) Homepage
    "If you're walking around with a firearm you're almost certainly a <strike>paranoid idiot</strike> loyal and law-abiding US citizen. If the police weren't keeping an eye on you they <strike>wouldn't</strike> might be doing their job."

    Fixed that for you.

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