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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    This law could get repealed mighty quick if it's senators and congressmen getting pulled over from anonymous tips.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So why was that guy driving a car while intoxicated and forced a woman off the road? What is the woman supposed to do, just accept that people smoke weed and drive while drunk?

      • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:47AM (#46823325) Homepage
        Perhaps she could accept that the police are bound by something called the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which says something about "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

        If there is probable cause, then there is no legal problem with obtaining a warrant and searching someone's home or car. The question is whether an anonymous, unverified report from an unknown source counts as probable cause. As usual, Popehat has a much clearer explanation of the subject than anything I have said [popehat.com]:

        "So, for instance, if you call in an anonymous tip that I am running a meth lab in my blue house on the corner, and the cops confirm that I have a blue house on the corner, those details are not meaningfully corroborative. If the cops find evidence of witnesses seeing me move precursor chemicals into my blue house on the corner, that's meaningfully corroborative. Here, the police observed no erratic driving or other corroboration of meaningful facts. In fact, they observed five minutes of unremarkable driving. The only corroboration was the innocent fact of the truck being present on the highway. "

        If you don't see the problem with running the concept of probable cause through a paper shredder and then lighting the Fourth Amendment on fire then perhaps Justice Antonin Scalia's description might help:

        "Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted Terry stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either. After today’s opinion all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving."

    • by GT66 (2574287)
      And if you think 911 calls are anonymous, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. Clarence alluded to the fact that 911 calls aren't really anonymous but he didn't want to just come out and give up the lie. "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,"
    • Out congress critters gave themselves legislative plates it's the don't even think about it to a cop.

      The Justices are pretty much immune to anything but impeachment by congress so they do not care either. They also have a permanent protection detail that reports only to them and the ability to cite for contempt.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by workdot (1056402)

      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.

      I like the logic, but the problem with that logic is that senators/congressmen/judges/state politicians etc usually have special license plates which make it clear that they are 'somebody'. Cops may see that and decide not to kick the hornets nest.

    • Senators, Congressmen and SCOTUS get their own special license plates. The cops would simply decide that people of such distinction don't need to be investigated on such tips.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      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.

      That was my first thought. It might be time for some civil disobedience.

  • by EmagGeek (574360) <gterich @ a o l.com> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:42AM (#46822553) Journal

    If someone who doesn't like me makes an "anonymous" call to 911 to report that I'm running meth lab in my garage, does that also give the cops the right to ransack my house looking for a meth lab?

    It's sad that "probable cause" has been diluted to the point that it has.

    Hasn't this already been going on with "anonymous" tips from the DEA and DHS leading to traffic stops where "parallel construction" is used to fabricate grounds for probable cause after the fact? I guess this ruling removes the need to do the whole "parallel construction" thing?

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      Sadly this is already happening, usually run by the b/tards. Besides just sending pizzas, they have sent in tips and had police raids in full swat show up at peoples houses just based on anon tips
    • by Ol Olsoc (1175323)

      If someone who doesn't like me makes an "anonymous" call to 911 to report that I'm running meth lab in my garage, does that also give the cops the right to ransack my house looking for a meth lab?

      While the short answer might be yes, the officers will know pretty quickly, without ransacking your house, that you don't have a meth lab. At that point, the not really anonymous caller will be arrested and charged with filing a false report. You will also have civil actions against the perp. Their life has for all practical purposes been destroyed, and the evidence is solid.

      Making false reports has been around forever. Using a modern phone to do that will document your crime, and will probably be the fi

      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:37AM (#46823193)

        For Christ's sakes, this guy ran the woman off the road, was under the influence, and on slashdot - she is the bad guy.

        I gather that you have evidence that this woman was run off the road by this guy?

        Other than her 911 call, I mean.

        Did the police go to the site of the incident? Not that I've read anywhere.

        Did the police take her statement officially? Again, I've not seen anything hint that they de-anonymized (is that a word? If not, it should be) her by actually talking to her or anything.

        From all I've read, she called 911, reported something that got the police to hunting for the vehicle (which they found 18 miles from the purported incident), the police checked him for drunken driving, found he wasn't, then searched his car for drugs, found he was carrying a lot of weed.

    • 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.

  • The empirical evidence in this case is that the tip was indeed reliable.

    In some state odor of marijuana is in itself enough to justify a search.

    • by myth24601 (893486)

      Odor of pot? Heck, all they have to do is claim they smell alcohol (weather they do or not) and they have the go ahead to harass you for as long as they want.

  • by flyingfsck (986395) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:45AM (#46822583)
    but we all agree that Seven of Nine is the most gorgeous...
  • This way they can just call themselves anonymously and then search any car/house they like without violating any law.
  • I am dumbfounded and speechless. I am finding myself agreeing with Clarence "who put *that* on my coke can" Thomas! And shockingly Thomas is disagreeing with Scalia!. Who knows! Justice Thomas might actually summon up enough courage and mental faculties to frame a cogent question in the next hearing. Or the world could be coming to an end.
    • Justice Thomas might actually summon up enough courage and mental faculties to frame a cogent question in the next hearing.

      Or maybe he'll continue believing it's the lawyers' job to provide the evidence, not the judges', and that just listening to their arguments is sufficient.

  • 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 mark-t (151149)
      What measures did said officer take to avoid being fined for a fraudulent 911 emergency call? 911 calls are traced, you know... practically instantaneously, in fact.
    • Re:Free warrant! (Score:4, Informative)

      by fey000 (1374173) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:40AM (#46823241)

      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.

      Jesus tapdancing Christ, this has been refuted three times now. The tip did not warrant the search, the tip only warranted pulling the driver over. The marijuana smell warranted the search, something that was not introduced by this ruling. As for #2, did you even read the digest? The ruling only accounts for when anonymity does not hold.

      Get the tinfoil hat out of your eyes and read TFA please.

  • DUI checkpoints (Score:3, Interesting)

    by schneidafunk (795759) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:50AM (#46822657)

    Just to play devil's advocate, how is this more invasive than DUI checkpoints?

    • by Entropius (188861)

      DUI checkpoints don't get to search your car. (But they are also a bad idea...)

    • by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >Just to play devil's advocate, how is this more invasive than DUI checkpoints?

      It's less invasive. DUI checkpoints are dragnets. In the case listed above, a guy called in to 9-11 to report that another driver had driven him off the road, and was driving recklessly around the freeway. This was considered adequate justification to conduct a traffic stop, at which point they found drugs in the car.

      I actually don't see what the big deal is (Scali, I'm looking at you). People report things to the police all t

    • by scorp1us (235526)

      With checkpoints, they have to provide notice, and an alternate route around the checkpoint (which is usually staffed, but that's another issue).

      At the check point, you don't have to answer any questions. You just have to stop. IANAL, but you can watch this. [youtube.com]

      Also, obligatory, Never talk to the police [youtube.com]

  • by scorp1us (235526) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:53AM (#46822695) Journal

    This is a boon to "parallel construction" [wikipedia.org]

    I for one don't think that the accuser should ever be anonymous when it comes to court cases, since we would have a right to face them in a court of law. I think for reporting the guy down the street who keeps violating noise or lawn ordinances is a different story. As those never really go to court.

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      Exactly. Now, if cops want to search someone they don't have enough legal basis to search ... they will just have one of their officers call in an 'anonymous' call.

      This is going to lead to police having more and more powers to conduct things without enough legal basis.

      This is not a good thing.

    • by omnichad (1198475)

      I for one don't think that the accuser should ever be anonymous when it comes to court cases, since we would have a right to face them in a court of law.

      Hint: an E911 call is not anonymous (in most cases). But even if they are, we're only talking about establishing reasonable suspicion. That's all it takes to make a traffic stop. Everything that happened beyond that is fully legal and by the book. The search was based on an odor which is also an established probable cause (although parallel construction could be an issue if they didn't actually smell anything).

      • by scorp1us (235526)

        The stop was based on "anonymous", the odor only was encountered because of the stop, in which the window came down. Neither the odor nor the drugs were perceivable before that. If the police just happened across the vehicle, they would need a suspicion of their own.

        I'm all for the guy getting stopped because of his operating a vehicle unsafely.
        I'm all for the guy getting busted for pot.
        I'm not ok with his accuser being considered "anonymous".

  • In a scathing dissent, fellow conservative Scalia called the Thomas opinion a "freedom-destroying cocktail" that would encourage "malevolent" tipsters to make false reports. It matters not whether the caller gave details about her alleged accident. The issue, said Scalia, is "whether what she claimed to know was true."

    Is Scalia seriously suggesting police can act on a tip only after proving that tipster is telling the truth? The operative word is "reasonable" suspicion. The number of false reports to 911 is vanishingly small, and there is very reasonable to believe the tipster was telling the truth.

    Just last week he suggested seriously people unsatisfied with taxes should rebel. Wonder what would happen if people who strongly believe that "the citizens united decision was unconstitutional and dilutes the franchise of

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by phillk6751 (654352)

      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 Constitut

    • Is Scalia seriously suggesting police can act on a tip only after proving that tipster is telling the truth?

      As much as I hate to find myself anywhere near Scalia (through he's joined here by Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan), police can legitimately act on a tip only after proving that a tipster is *likely* to be telling the truth. In this case, after following the car for five minutes and not seeing anything that gave them suspicion that the driver was drunk, there's no way that they could have reasonable s

  • 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 PPH (736903)

      This.

      It relieves the police of the need to manufacture a plausible reason for the stop. So they won't have to reveal that cell phone feed from the NSA that gave them the details of the drug delivery.

      Sure, there are measures the police can use to identify the source of an anonymous 911 call. But these would only be used in the event someone might be abusing the system. There would be no need to investigate the source of a call giving a valid tip, so they wouldn't. Likewise, there would be no investigation

  • by mark-t (151149) <markt@nOSPam.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.

  • DON'T BE A DICK ON THE HIGHWAY! Drive conservatively, dress conservatively, and be completely (able to pass a blood test) sober.

    Most importantly: Don't draw attention to yourself.

  • by korthof (717545) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @11:16AM (#46823691) Journal
    The Supreme court ruled the officer had reasonable suspicion that the drive was intoxicate and driving under the influence. The did not rule on the acceptance of the anonymous phone call or that it was acceptable against the 4th amendment. Only that a reasonable suspicion of driving while intoxicated can be investigated from a tipster.
  • by Huntr (951770) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @11:44AM (#46824095)

    Scalia w/ the liberal females in dissent and Breyer in the majority w/Thomas, Roberts, Alito and Kennedy? On *this* issue Breyer sides w/Thomas et al?

    I don't even....

  • by Sloppy (14984) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @12:27PM (#46824663) Homepage Journal

    The bizarreness of Thomas' justification is pretty over-the-top. He's saying that an anonymous call creates probable cause because its not anonymous? The progression of that argument would be the government can authorize itself to search anything. A cop could just call 911, non-anonymously and even give his name, to create the tip that authorizes himself to search. Wouldn't that trigger the newly-created exception and make it legal?

    Maybe there's some way that 911 calls could circumvent the 4th, but a not-really-anonymous anonymous call angle? WTF.

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