The U.S. Supreme Court has done it again.
Yesterday, in a typical 5-4 decision, the Court held that an anonymous tip — an unidentified call with absolutely no indication of truth or reliability — was sufficient to justify police stopping a driver on the road and detaining him on suspicion of drunk driving. Navarette v. California.
The Fourth Amendment of our Constitution clearly states that "The right of the people to be secure in their persons…against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…but upon probable cause". In other words, a cop can't just stop a driver on suspicion of drunk driving unless he has "probable cause" — a reasonable belief — that he is intoxicated.
So, the issue is: Does a telephone tip from an unidentified source constitute a reasonable suspicion of guilt — even where the responding cop sees no indication of drunk driving? Or, for example, can an anonymous phone call from a spiteful former wife or a disgruntled neighbor be enough to get you pulled over by the police and subjected to a DUI investigation?
As I've said so many times on this blog, there exists a DUI Exception to the Constitution — and there is no better example of this than the Supreme Court holding in Navarette. But it's easy for some to ignore these destructions of our constitutional rights, since they only apply to those "drunk drivers", right? The problem is, as I've also repeatedly written, we are a nation of legal precedent : a loss of constitutional protections in a DUI case will be used as a precedent in any other criminal case. See my post, Who Cares About the Rights of Those Accused of DUI?.
Clarence Thomas vs. Antonin Scalia on 4th Amendment and 'Reasonable Suspicion'
Washington, DC. April 22 - The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a major ruling today with profound implications for the Fourth Amendment rights of all persons who drive or ride in automobiles on public roads. At issue in Navarette v. California was a traffic stop prompted by an anonymous call to 911 claiming that a truck had driven the caller off the road. Going by the information supplied in that call alone, the police located a matching truck in the vicinity of the alleged incident and pulled it over on suspicion of drunk driving. That stop led to the discovery of 30 pounds of marijuana stashed in the truck.
The question before the Supreme Court was whether that single anonymous tip to 911 provided the police with reasonable suspicion to stop the truck. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that the "the stop complied with the Fourth Amendment because, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the driver was intoxicated." While this is a "close case," Thomas acknowledged, it still passes constitutional muster. Joining Thomas in that judgment was Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, and Samuel Alito.
Writing in dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia came out swinging against Thomas. "The Court's opinion serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail," Scalia declared, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. It elevates an anonymous and uncorroborated tip above the bedrock guarantee of the Fourth Amendment. "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." That state of affairs, Scalia declared, "is not my concept, and I am sure it would not be the Framers', of a people secure from unreasonable searches and seizures."
So even if such a telephone call were reliable — and there is now no longer requirement that it has to be — you can be stopped for suspicion of drunk driving if the caller says that you were…speeding. Even if the responding cop sees no evidence that you are intoxicated.
In his dissent, Justice Antonio Scalia wrote further:
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.
…and they continue to chip away at our Constitutional freedoms.