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Anonymous tips get the nod for traffic stops DUI and Reckless Driving

Posted by Steven H. Fagan | Apr 24, 2014 | 0 Comments

Any old anonymous tip can provide sufficient probable cause to justify a decision by police to stop a vehicle for the purpose of investigating drunk driving or reckless driving, according to a very controversial ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case arises out of the state of California, but because it was heard in SCOTUS, it applies nationwide, including right here in the Chicago area.

Our law firm focuses on Illinois criminal and drunk driving defense at courthouses in Cook County, Lake County and DuPage County.

The 5-4 vote at the Supreme Court upheld probable cause for a traffic stop after which law enforcement officers discovered marijuana inside the vehicle that was stopped. The officers later admitted they had not observed any evidence of reckless driving prior to stopping the vehicle. In other words, by absolutely any other standard, they had no probable cause to detain the vehicle or its driver and passengers. The Constitution stood in their way. Until now.

Telephone tip

The Mendocino County dispatch center in northern California received a 9-1-1 call, on Aug. 23, 2008, from a dispatcher at a dispatch center in neighboring Humboldt County alleging that a silver Ford F-150 pickup truck had forced an unidentified vehicle off southbound Highway 1 at mile marker 88. The original caller to Humboldt County also provided the license plate number of the vehicle in question.

Based upon that information, Mendocino County law enforcement officer were informed by their dispatch center about the reckless driving incident. Shortly, two separate officers observed the vehicle and started following it before initiating a traffic stop. While officers were asking for information from the driver, they smelled the odor of marijuana.

That observation prompted officers to search the vehicle where they discovered four large bags of marijuana being transported in the truck bed. Lorenzo Prado Navarette and Jose Prado Navarette were arrested on charges of transportation of marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale.

Attorneys for the defendants argued a motion before the trial court asking that the evidence obtained during the traffic stop be suppressed. They argued that the evidence failed to establish a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing to justify the stop.

Anonymous tip

Prosecutors countered that the anonymous tip along with observations of the officers constituted reasonable suspicion of the reckless driving allegations. The magistrate judge denied the defense motion.

The defendants petitioned for a review of this decision and both the California Court of Appeals for the First District, Division Five and the California Supreme Court, denied their appeal. The defendants pled guilty to the charges.

Court opinions

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said the 9-1-1 tip reporting a Ford pickup truck had run the caller off the road did not violate the Constitutional rights of the driver as it was sufficiently reliable to allow for the traffic stop.In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia labeled the opinion by Justice Thomas as "a freedom-destroying cocktail."

Until now, Illinois law required that an anonymous tip be corroborated is some meaningful way before Constitutional standards allowed detention. This ruling can and will open the door to abuse and broader governmental power.

The attorneys at Fagan, Fagan & Davis have defended countless clients against criminal and drunk driving charges throughout the Chicago area courts, including those located in Cook County, DuPage County and Lake County. The attorneys at Fagan, Fagan & Davis understand which defense strategies are the most effective in court and how to challenge evidence gathered by law enforcement and offered by the prosecution. Contact us now for a free consultation.

About the Author

Steven H. Fagan

Steve Fagan earned his law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law, is a member of the NCDD, NACDL, ISBA and a founding member of the DUIDLA. He is published and has taught CLE for lawyers on subjects such as sex offenses, DUI and criminal defense, focuses on trial work and Real Estate closings


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