Prado Navarette v. California

The Fourth Amendment protects persons from unreasonable searches and seizures. It has been interpreted by the Supreme Court that police needs to have a reasonable suspicion that a law has been violated in order to pull over a vehicle. The reasonable suspicion is based on totality of circumstances, and depends “upon both the content of information possessed by police and its degree of reliability.” Alabama v. White, 496 US 325, 330.

The usual cases that we see involve police observing a vehicle in violation of some traffic law, but this case is a little different. Here, police received a 911 call reporting a vehicle “as having run her of the road”. The question becomes whether the 911 call alone is enough to pull over a vehicle. Although, “the anonymous tip alone seldom demonstrates sufficient reliability”, White at 329,  apparently in this case the Supreme Court says it is sufficient to pull a person over. 

MJinthecarA California Highway Patrol stopped a pick up truck after receiving a 911 call that the driver ran the caller off the road. Interestingly enough, police followed the vehicle for five minutes (enough to evaluate the driver’s driving pattern) and did not see any traffic violations. The Supreme Court says that officer’s failure to observe additional suspicious conduct after following the vehicle does not dispel the reasonable suspicion of drunk driving. As the officers approached the pulled over vehicle, they smelled marijuana. (Can police search my vehicle based on smell of marijuana?). The subsequent search of the vehicle revealed 30 pounds of marijuana. If the initial stop of the vehicle would have been deemed illegal, then the drugs seized should have been suppressed from the evidence. (Read more on when can police stop and search your vehicle here).

The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the officer did not violate the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights by pulling his vehicle over because it matched the 911 caller’s description of a vehicle that recently ran her off the road. Under the totality of the circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the truck’s driver was intoxicated, even without any further evidence. The caller’s description is reliable enough simply because she was able to identify the make of the car and it’s location. 


 

THE DISSENT (written by Justice Scalia):

“Not only, it turns out, did the police have no good reason at first to believe that Lorenzo was driving drunk, they had very good reason at last to know that he was not. The Court concludes that the tip, plus confirmation of the truck’s location, produced reasonable suspicion that the truck not only had been but still was barreling dangerously and drunkenly down Highway 1. In fact, alas, it was not, and the officers knew it. They followed the truck for five minutes, presumably to see if it was being operated recklessly. And that was good police work. While the anonymous tip was not enough to sup­port a stop for drunken driving under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1 (1968), it was surely enough to counsel observation of the truck to see if it was driven by a drunken driver. But the pesky little detail left out of the Court’s reason- able-suspicion equation is that, for the five minutes that the truck was being followed (five minutes is a long time), Lorenzo’s driving was irreproachable.”

“The Court’s opinion serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail consisting of two parts patent falsity: (1) thatanonymous 911 reports of traffic violations are reliable so long asthey correctly identify a car and its location, and (2) that a single instance of careless or reckless drivingnecessarily 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. After all, he never alleged drunkenness, but merely called in a traffic violation—and on that point his word is as good as his victim’s.

Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted Terry stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either. After today’s opinion all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk of hav­ing our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving. I respectfully dissent.” 

Cite as: 572 U. S. ____ (2014) 11
Prado Navarette v. California. You can read a full opinion here. 

Related Pages:

After today’s opinion all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk of hav­ing our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving. ~ SCALIA dissent

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