United States Surpreme Court Decision WIll Effect DUI and Other Criminal Cases

Posted by Michael Zarrella | Jul 29, 2014 | 0 Comments

    In a recent United States Supreme Court case, Navarette V. California, the court in a 5-4 decision greatly expanded the ability of the police to pull a motorist over in a DUI or other criminal investigation based on an anonymous tip.  The Supreme Court held that a police traffic stop based upon a 911 call complied with the Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure requirements because under the "totality of the circumstances" the police officer had a reasonable suspicion that the driver was intoxicated.
    As stated in the scathing dissent by Justice Scalia, this opinion "serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail."  I completely agree with Justice Scalia.  This case will now allow for the reliance by police officers on anonymous 911 reports of traffic violations to conduct a traffic stop and further search of the vehicle and person. Additionally, this decision allows for a reasonable suspicion of drunkenness based upon a single instance of careless or reckless driving.
    Justice Scalia, who is often seen as a conservative by many, has continued to be an advocate for fundamental fairness in criminal and DUI cases.  Based on the majority's opinion, anyone at any time can have someone pulled over by the police based on a phone call.  A jealous ex-wife, a former business partner or an employee can now just make an anonymous phone call and have anyone that they may not like pulled over by the police for no reason.  This can be extremely unfair in drunk driving cases.
    For instance, an individual may notice that someone had one or two drinks with dinner and then makes a phone call saying they see a motorist driving erradically.  When the police stop said motorist they will likely smell the alcohol and jump to the conclusion that the individual must have been drunk driving.  This person, even if he eventually passes a breathalyzer test, will have been pulled over, detained, brought back to the police station (sometimes for hours) and have had their car towed because someone may have had a grudge against them.  The person with the grudge never has to worry about their accusation coming back on them because it was just an anonymous phone call.
    This decision does not completely abolish the needed corroboration of an anonymous tip.  Defendants can still argue that their case may not have fallen under a 911 call or defendants can still argue that Rhode Island's Constitution goes further than the United States Constitution which still disallows stops based upon an anonymous tip.

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