In a 5-4 decision last week, a majority of the Supreme Court concluded in Navarette v. California, that police were authorized to stop a driver for investigation of DUI solely on the circumstances surrounding an anonymous telephone tip that the vehicle had nearly run the tipster off the road a short time earlier. A copy of the opinion appears here.
In a scathing dissent, Justice Scalia, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan, pointed out that the majority opinion turned heavily on the factor that there are sanctions for misuse of the 911 system. While that may be true, sanctions don’t carry much weight against an anonymous party, who remained anonymous, and who reported only a single instance of reckless conduct – which would be extremely hard to disprove. Worse, the majority equated such a single instance of allegedly reckless conduct with “reasonable suspicion” for a DUI stop, ignoring many other reasons why the vehicle might have made such a maneuver and despite the fact that, prior to the stop, police observed the vehicle driving in a perfectly normal fashion for several minutes, exhibiting none of the behaviors commonly associated with drunk driving.
As it turned out, the driver was not impaired. The truck was, however transporting marijuana.