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Supreme Court Gives Police New Power To Rely On Anonymous Tips

In yet another 5-4 vote, the US Supreme Court gave police the power to stop any driver suspected of impaired driving, or any other offense, presumably, based solely on information provided by an anonymous tipster. What could possibly go wrong?

The ruling stems from a case in California, Navarette v. California, where a woman called 911 to report that she had been run off the road by a pickup truck. She provided the police with a description of the truck, and a license plate number. Police located the truck, and followed it for five minutes, never witnessing any signs that the driver was impaired. After initiating the stop based solely on the information provided by the tipster, they found a large amount of marijuana in the truck. The driver was arrested for possession of marijuana, but not impaired driving. The defendant sought to suppress the evidence of the marijuana, arguing that the officer had no reason to stop the vehicle, so any evidence gathered should be inadmissible.

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Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, said that the information provided by the tipster was sufficiently reliable for police to act on it and stop the driver, saying that, in the California case, "the stop complied with the Fourth Amendment because, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the driver was intoxicated."

Justice Scalia, writing for the minority, was scathing in his opinion of the ruling. "The Court's opinion serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail .... 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 .... [This] is not my concept, and I am sure it would not be the Framers', of a people secure from unreasonable searches and seizures."

Ruling in the majority with Justice Thomas were Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer, who normally sides with the Court's more liberal bloc. Dissenting with Justice Scalia were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, three of the traditionally liberal Justices.

For those who would like to know more about this case, there is a helpful analysis at SCOTUSblog. The opinion can be read here. (H/T to benchslap for the links)

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I would add, that if I find myself agreeing with Antonin Scalia, it must be a fucked up ruling.

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