Can a traffic stop be based solely on an anonymous tip given to police by a concerned citizen? After all, officers must have a reasonable, articulable suspicion that a traffic violation has occurred before stopping a vehicle in the state of Texas. This is the question that the United States Supreme Court will be set to answer when the new term starts in October.
The case, which questions the information police must have before initiating a stop, is based on the arrests made by California Highway Patrol officers after they were given an anonymous tip that a pickup truck was driving erratically. The officers did not actually observed the actual erratic driving, but were able to identify the vehicle after dispatchers gave them the make, model, color and license plate number.
During the stop, officers smelled marijuana and initiated a search of the vehicle. They found four bags of marijuana and arrested the driver and the passenger on suspicion of marijuana possession. They pled guilty to the possession charges and then appealed, claiming that the initial stop was made without probable cause. Essentially, they believe that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated, and that there is precedent indicating that police may not detain or search someone simply on the strength of an anonymous tip.
As such, the question before the Court will be whether such tips involving reckless driving should be treated differently than tips alerting police to other crimes.
It should be noted that the Court previously declined to hear a Virginia case where the state supreme court set aside a drunk driving conviction where the stop was based on an anonymous tip.
Source: DenverPost.com, Court: Is anonymous tip enough for traffic stop, October 1, 2013