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Does Anonymous Tip Ever Justify DUI or Any Other Police Stop?

One of the critical questions that ought to be asked any times charges are leveled against a person is whether police had justifiable cause to even enter into the picture.

There are cases on record in which authorities have used the excuse of an alleged traffic violation to trigger investigations that have resulted in more serious charges, perhaps of driving drunk or drugged. So the question becomes whether the reason for the initial stop was legitimate.

In a case that is now going to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the question is whether police can pull someone over for reckless driving simply on the word of an anonymous phone caller. More specifically, the question is whether such stops are legal if police didn't witness any erratic driving by the suspect themselves.

The appeal is being made by two brothers who were pulled over by the California Highway Patrol for reckless driving. The officers had been dispatched on the basis of an anonymous caller's claim that the vehicle the two were in had forced another vehicle off the road. A very clear description of the suspect vehicle, right down to the license plate, was provided.

Court records show that CHP officers made the stop without having seen any reckless driving. But the stop led officers to investigate and find large amounts of marijuana in the brothers' vehicle. The two brothers later pleaded guilty to charges but appealed, saying their constitutional protection against unjust search and seizure had been violated.

The issue of the validity of stops based on anonymous tips remains in question because four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a Virginia case in which the state's Supreme Court decided that police had violated a DUI defendant's rights when they stopped him based solely on an anonymous caller's tip.

Source: WashingtonPost.com, "Supreme Court will consider whether anonymous tip is enough to pull over a vehicle," Associated Press, Oct. 1, 2013