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Traffic Stops Based Upon Anonymous Tips Allowed

Posted by Terry A. Wapner | Apr 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

The U.S. Supreme Court, today, has ruled that an uncorroborated anonymous tip can provide sufficient probable cause to justify a decision by California law enforcement officers to stop a car vehicle in order to investigate reckless or drunken driving.

The justices at the Supreme Court voted 5-4, recently, to uphold the grounds for a traffic stop in Northern California in which law enforcement officers subsequently found marijuana in the vehicle. The officers admitted that they had not observed any evidence of reckless driving.

Telephone Tip

The Mendocino County dispatch center received a call, on Aug. 23, 2008, from a dispatcher at Humboldt County with information that a silver Ford F-150 pickup truck had forced an unidentified vehicle off southbound Highway 1 at mile marker 88. The original caller had also provided the license plate number of the pickup truck in question.

Based upon that information, the Mendocino County dispatch center broadcast information about the incident to officers in the area. Shortly, two separate officers reported observing the vehicle and began to follow it. The officers stopped the vehicle. While they were requesting information from the driver, officers smelled the odor of marijuana.

Based upon those observations, officers searched the vehicle, discovering four large bags of marijuana being transported in the truck bed. The occupants of the vehicle, Lorenzo Prado Navarette and Jose Prado Navarette, were arrested on charges of transportation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale.Attorneys for the defendants submitted a motion to the court asking that the evidence obtained as a result of the traffic stop be suppressed as it failed to establish a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to justify the stop.

Anonymous Tip

Prosecutors argued that the anonymous tip when combined with observations of the officers matched the tip, thus constituting reasonable suspicion of the reckless driving allegations. The magistrate judge denied the defense motion. The defendants petitioned for a review of this decision and both the California Court of Appeals for the First District, Division Five and the California Supreme Court, denied their appeal. The defendants pled guilty to the charges an action that was affirmed by the California Court of Appeals for the First District, Division Five.

Court opinions

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said the tip phoned in to 9-1-1 that stated that a Ford pickup truck had run the caller off the road was sufficiently reliable to allow for the traffic stop without violating the driver's constitutional rights.Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the dissent in which he labeled the opinion by Justice Thomas as "a freedom-destroying cocktail."

Contact an attorney

When facing DUI charges, your initial reaction may be that taking your case to a jury trial will be futile. However, there are many situations in which you could benefit from taking your case to a jury trial. In order to make that determination you should consult with an experienced DUI defense attorney who practices in Fresno, including the San Joaquin Valley, including Kings County, Madera County and Tulare County, in order to determine whether a trial by jury is in your best interest.

If you do have a DUI arrest in Fresno or the San Joaquin Valley, including Kings County, Madera County and Tulare County, do not think that your only choice is to plead guilty. Take a moment to contact Terry A. Wapner and schedule a consultation in order to discuss the facts of your case and be advised of your options.

About the Author

Terry A. Wapner

Terry A. Wapner confines his practice to the defense of persons accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and related crimes.

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