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Supreme Court to decide if anonymous tip justifies traffic stop

South Carolina readers might be interested in the outcome of a forthcoming Supreme Court case. At issue is whether or not an anonymous tip can be considered probable cause for a traffic stop. Police officers are not allowed to make a traffic stop without probable cause. If police stop a driver without reasonable suspicion and then charge the person with DUI, the lack of cause may form the basis of a DUI defense strategy.

The case in question began with a 911 call placed in California. A female caller stated that she had been run off the road by a silver Ford pickup truck. Officers found the pickup with the license plate number provided by the caller. The pickup was followed by police for a little while, but officers did not observe any indication of reckless driving. Despite this, police proceeded to pull the truck over and discovered four large bags of marijuana inside.

There were two men inside the truck and both were charged with drug charges. The two defendants pleaded guilty to the charges, but they questioned the legality of the traffic stop. According to their argument, the anonymous tip did not rise to the level of probable cause to pull them over. The Supreme Court is likely to review its own case history regarding anonymous tips.

In a decision handed down in 2000, the high court ruled that an anonymous tip was not cause to stop and search a teenager. In a written explanation, the judge explained that police are required to have a reasonable suspicion beyond an anonymous tip before they can conduct a search. In other words, police must corroborate a tip before acting upon it.

Source: MSNBC, "Can anonymous tips justify a police stop?", Dominic Perella, January 21, 2014

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