Officers Had Reasonable Suspicion of Criminal Activity Based Upon the Totality of the Circumstances
Overview: The Supreme Court recently held that peace officers who conducted a traffic stop and searched a vehicle based on an anonymous tip did not violate the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights — as long as the officers had reasonable suspicion of criminal activity based upon the totality of the circumstances.
Training Points: It is important to be mindful that an anonymous tip alone is not sufficient to make a case. However, if the facts warrant it, and under appropriate circumstances, an anonymous tip may be enough to provide reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop. Once the stop is made, the officer must build upon the probable cause to go further, as in any other case. Developing the proper sequence of events that led to the stop and subsequent action (search, arrest, etc.) must be articulated and properly documented. Officers must not assume that the anonymous information provides all the necessary probable cause. The anonymous information is merely the "tip of the iceberg" toward building the case.
Summary Analysis: In People v. Navarette, a 911 caller reported that a truck had run her off the road. The caller provided details about the truck, including the license plate number, to the dispatcher who then broadcast the information to law enforcement officers. Moments later, officers located the reported vehicle and immediately conducted a traffic stop without personally observing the erratic driving. As officers approached the truck, they smelled marijuana. A search of the truck bed revealed 30 pounds of marijuana. After charges were filed against the driver, Navarette, he moved to suppress the evidence, arguing the traffic stop violated his Fourth Amendment rights because officers lacked reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop. The motion was denied and Navarette was convicted and sentenced.
The Court found the anonymous call was reliable and created sufficient reasonable suspicion that Navarette might have been driving drunk because of the reckless manner of his driving. Since the anonymous call was found to have an “indicia of reliability,” the Court ruled the officers who conducted the traffic stop complied with the Fourth Amendment because, under the totality of the circumstances, the officers had reasonable suspicion the driver was intoxicated.