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4th Amendment hit hard by Supreme Court in ruling upholding traffic stops based on 911 tips

22 April 2014 at 11:59 AM ET by Amy Mathieu

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[JURIST] The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Tuesday in Navarette v. California that the traffic stop in this particular case was permissible under the Fourth Amendment because the officer had reasonable suspicion that the driver was intoxicated. In 2008 police officers stopped Lorenzo Prado Navarette based on a 911 tip that the driver ran her off the road. The police quickly pulled the driver over and smelled marijuana when approaching the vehicle. The officers found 30 pounds of marijuana in the vehicle and arrested the driver, Navarette, and a passenger. The arrestees moved to suppress the evidence of possession of drugs, arguing that the search violated their Fourth Amendment rights because the officers lacked reasonable suspicion when they pulled Navarette over. In the opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, the majority found that an anonymous tip will not always lead to reasonable suspicion, but in this case, it did. The court held that reasonableness of suspicion is based on the totality of the circumstances, including: content of information possessed by police and reliability of that information. The court found that "under appropriate circumstances, an anonymous tip can demonstrate sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop." Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a dissent that was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case in January after the Court of Appeals of the State of California, First Appellate District affirmed the magistrate judge's decision to deny the suppression of the evidence. The California Court of Appeals relied on Lowry v. Gutierrez, which found that citizen tips by victims or eyewitnesses are sufficient alone to supply reasonable suspicion, especially in cases of reckless driving or similar threats to public safety. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in October. 

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