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How far do your Fourth Amendment rights go?

Supreme Court upholds traffic stop based on 911 tip

A police tipster’s call in 2008 triggered the US Supreme Court question: Does the Fourth Amendment require an officer who receives an anonymous tip regarding a drunken or reckless driver to corroborate dangerous driving before stopping the vehicle?

When an anonymous woman called 911 saying she had run off the road by a pickup truck, police quickly pulled the driver over and smelled marijuana when they approached the vehicle. Officers arrested Prado Navarette and a passenger when they discovered 30 pounds of marijuana in the bed of the truck.

The arrestees argued that the search violated their Fourth Amendment rights because the officers lacked reasonable suspicion when they pulled Navarette over, and moved to suppress the drug possession evidence. However, in the opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the majority found that while an anonymous tip will not always lead to reasonable suspicion, in this case, it did.

The reasoning and results

The court held that ‘reasonable sucolumbus DUI lawyerspicion’ should take a holistic look at the circumstances, including the content of information possessed by police and the reliability of that information. The court found that “under appropriate circumstances, an anonymous tip can demonstrate sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop.

The Fourth Amendment permits brief investigative stops when an officer has “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of…criminal activity.” Reasonable suspicion takes into account “the totality of the circumstances,” and depends “upon both the content of information possessed by police and its degree of reliability.” This shows that although an anonymous tip alone is rarely enough evidence for a stop, the right circumstances might my lend it credibility.

In the case of Navaro, the tipster’s detail of the specific truck and the speed with which the police responded lended more credit to the 911 call. On top of that, the fact that the truck ran the caller off of the road gave reasonable suspicion of drunk driving—despite the fact that the vehicle was driving normally for the short time the officers were following. So in April 2014, their motion was denied, and they pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana.

Put your case in the hands of a respected DUI lawyer

When police officers stop you, they must have reasonable cause. In cases where an officer has less than sufficient evidence for pulling you over, your rights could be at stake. If you are arrested, call the Ohio criminal defense attorneys at Yavitch & Palmer at 614-224-6142 or fill out our quick form.


Contact Stephen Palmer and learn more about his 19 years experience as a Columbus DUI attorney.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Thorne CC via Compfight cc

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