Navarette v. California – Traffic Stops Based on Anonymous Tips

The Fourth Amendment well establishes that before a police officer can initiate a traffic stop, he or she must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed or is about to be committed. driverglance1.jpg

But in the case of Navarette v. California, the question is what obligation does a patrol officer have to corroborate anonymously provided information relating to reckless drivers. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take on this issue, with oral arguments slated to for late next month.

The resulting decision is likely to have a great impact on whether Broward DUI defense lawyers will have additional grounds on which to challenge the evidence against our clients.

Per the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine, any information or evidence obtained subsequent to an improper stop or search can’t be used against the defendant. If the court rules in favor of the defendant in the Navarette case, it will mean that in most cases, patrol officers won’t be able to rely solely on the accusations of anonymous callers to establish reasonable suspicion.

According to court records, this case unfolded back in 2008, when police dispatchers fielded an anonymous call indicating that a person driving recklessly had nearly driven him off the road. The caller supplied the make, model, plate number and color of the vehicle in question, as well as the timing and location of the incident as well as the alleged offender’s direction of travel.

Dispatchers notified patrol officers in the area. One officer quickly located the vehicle. He proceeded to follow that vehicle for a period of time, choosing not to immediately pull over the suspect in order to establish his own grounds for reasonable suspicion. However, by the officer’s own admission, the suspect driver committed no crime and exhibited no suspicious action that the officer observed. Still, he was pulled over anyway.

Upon stopping the vehicle, the officer noted the strong smell of marijuana. The vehicle was searched. A large quantity of the plant was discovered in the vehicle. Both the driver and the passenger were charged with trafficking in marijuana, and were subsequently convicted.

However, upon appeal, the men argued that the marijuana found in the vehicle should have been excluded from the evidence (thereby throwing the entire case) because the stop was a Fourth Amendment violation. The officer had established no reasonable suspicion. All he technically had to go on was that anonymous tip.

In the 2000 case of n Florida v. J.L., the U.S. Supreme Court held that reasonable suspicion required more than an anonymous tip that accurately identified a certain suspect, but failed to offer any substantiated accusation of wrongdoing.

However, the court did concede that there could be instances when an anonymous tip might suffice. The example provided was if the tipster alleged a certain person was carrying a bomb. The court theorized that in that case, police could probably lawfully stop the suspect solely on the basis of that call.

The J.L. case has been cited by numerous courts to justify allowing anonymous tipsters to provide the basis of a reckless or drunk driving stop on the basis that, similar to someone carrying a bomb, these individuals pose an imminent threat to those who share the road.

But what’s interesting in the Navarette case is that the officer did not immediately choose to pull over the driver. Presumably, if the reasoning in J.L. was relevant here, the officer would not have waited for any length of time, as the suspected threat posed by the driver was real and imminent.

So absent any apparent emergency, the officer’s lack of reasonable suspicion would appear ample grounds to challenge the evidence found in the ensuing stop.

If you’ve been arrested, call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. The Ansara Law Firm serves Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
Navarette v. California, U.S. Supreme Court, Argument Scheduled Jan. 21,2014
More Blog Entries:
Stalking Allegations on the Rise in Florida, Nov. 20, 2013, Broward Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog