US Supreme Court to Decide Case on Anonymous Tips


On October 1, 2013, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal out of California regarding "reasonable suspicion" and "anonymous tips." In Navarette v California, a California Court of Appeals panel held that a police officer can stop a vehicle pursuant to an "anonymous tip" alone if some details of the tip are corroborated. The defendants in Navarette have appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court.

The primary issues before the Court in Navarette are as follows:

1. Does the Fourth Amendment require an officer who receives an anonymous tip regarding a drunken or reckless driver to corroborate dangerous driving before stopping the vehicle?

2. Does an anonymous tip that a specific vehicle ran someone off the road provide the necessary

legal "reasonable suspicion" to stop the vehicle, where the officer could not corroborate any dangerous driving despite following the suspect vehicle for almost five minutes?

To state it another way, does a police officer need to observe evidence of illegal or reckless driving firsthand in order to lawfully initiate a traffic stop on the vehicle?

The US Supreme Court's decision in Navarette will have an impact on South Carolina drivers. In 2010, the South Carolina Court of Appeals issued an opinion debunking "anonymous tips" as providing basis for legal "reasonable suspicion" to initiate an investigation or a stop. The ultimate decision in Navarette could have a huge impact on South Carolina drivers in DUI/drunk driving investigations. Will an anonymous call from another motorist provide legal "probable cause" for a DUI/drunk driving traffic stop to be initiated? Only time will tell; but in the meantime, below please find a memorandum summarizing the 2010 opinion from the South Carolina Court of Appeals on "anonymous tips."

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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