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The Courts Privacy United States

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

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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:46AM (#46822601)

    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 silas_moeckel ( 234313 ) <silas&dsminc-corp,com> on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:46AM (#46822611) Homepage

    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:Uh... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Le Marteau ( 206396 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @09:48AM (#46822631) Journal

    > Does this seem like yet another easily fabricated excuse the police can use to search your property?

    Uh... no. No search is involved or permitted solely based on an anonymous tip... just pulling someone over. This falls under the "reasonable suspicion" standard for pulling someone over. They pulled me over for "accelerating too fast out of an intersection" at about the time the bars were closing... that was reasonable suspicion that I was drinking and driving and all they needed to pull me over even though there IS no crime for "accelerating too fast".

    The "reasonable suspicion" standard is MUCH lower than "probable cause" which is required for a search. They still can't search you based on an anonymous tip... just pull you over and ask you questions, which you can of course refuse to answer.

    People discussing this issue would do well to bone up on the difference between "reasonable suspicion" and "probable cause". People misuse the terms all the time... they are very different, and anyone who interacts with, or may interact with the police, should know what the terms mean.

  • by workdot ( 1056402 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:02AM (#46822805)

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:04AM (#46822827)

    From the dissent:

    The Court’s opinion serves up a freedom-destroying
    cocktail consisting of two parts patent falsity: (1) that
    anonymous 911 reports of traffic violations are reliable so
    long as they correctly identify a car and its location, and
    that a single instance of
    careless or reckless driving
    necessarily supports a reasonable suspicion of drunken
    ness. All the malevolent 911 caller need do is assert a
    traffic violation, and the targeted car will be stopped,
    forcibly if necessary, by the police. If the driver turns out
    not to be drunk (which will almo
    st always be the case), the
    caller need fear no conseque
    nces, even if 911 knows his
    identity. After all, he never alleged drunkenness, but
    merely called in a traffic violation—and on that point his
    word is as good as his victim’s

  • Re:Uh... (Score:5, Informative)

    by n1ywb ( 555767 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:07AM (#46822859) Homepage Journal
    This. The NPR article seems misleading. They stopped him based on the 911 call. Which seems reasonable to me. If some moron is driving like a fool I'd really like to cops to stop him. The probable cause for the SEARCH was due to the marijuana smell. I don't think this ruling is a broad as it's being made out to be.
  • 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.

  • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> 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 []:

    "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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @10:53AM (#46823405)

    In order to search only the garage, they will need to "secure" the rest of the house and it's occupants. They will also need to kill any dogs present on the property. All damage done to the door when they kicked in and the window where they thrown tear-gas thought will be your expanse. You will also require a good health insurance for any wound and physiological traumas your family and children may had during this routine police work done to ensure your own safety and the safety of your neighbourhood. I am sure you'll understand because you are obviously a true patriot. Have a nice day.

  • 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.
  • The stuff might be 100% legal, but it still has to be something that the person actually witnessed firsthand. Saying that you "think" somebody is doing something illegal is not valid unless you actually saw them *DO* something that you thought was illegal.

    And yes, I know this. Although this knowledge is admittedly based on my own jurisdiction and it's possible laws may be different elsewhere.

  • by ShaunC ( 203807 ) on Wednesday April 23, 2014 @01:44PM (#46825405)

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

    In my state at least, the congressperson's spouse is entitled to one. Same goes for judges (and their spouses) who also get special "Judiciary" plates if they want them.

Garbage In -- Gospel Out.