The Supreme Court has ruled law enforcement officials can now stop US drivers based little information in anonymous tips by a caller who dialed 911.
The case was based around a incident in which an anonymous 911 caller told the police that a pickup truck had forced her off the road, providing the location, as well as details such as the truck’s make, model, and license plate number.
The high court ruled 5-4 that relying only on a comment from a 911 caller is reasonable because “a 911 call has some features that allow for identifying and tracking callers.”
The Supreme Court has maintained that police may act on anonymous tips, although those tips are required to include enough detail so that officers can formulate a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
The court heard no evidence that the responding officers witnessed the man driving recklessly.
“We have firmly rejected the argument that reasonable cause for an investigative stop can only be based on the officer’s personal observation, rather than on information supplied by another person,” Justice Thomas wrote.
Thomas said the anonymous caller’s comments contained enough “indicia of reliability” to give police enough reasonable suspicion to halt the truck.
“The officer was therefore justified in proceeding from the premise that the truck has, in fact, caused the caller’s car to be dangerously diverted from the highway,” he went on. “Running another vehicle off the road suggests lane positioning problems, decreased vigilance, impaired judgment, or some combination of those recognized drunk driving cues.”
“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 (2) that a single instance of careless or reckless driving necessarily supports a reasonable suspicion of drunkenness,”
“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 almost always be the case), the caller need fear no consequences even if 911 knows his identity.”