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Supreme Court to decide power of anonymous tips in traffic stops

Drivers have various rights to help protect them from wrongful arrests and charges like drunk driving. For example, Tennessee law says that a driver doesn't have to consent to field sobriety tests. That is an important right that many drivers are wise to exercise.

Another invaluable protection for all citizens is the requirement of probable cause that law enforcement is supposed to recognize. A police officer should not just enter a person's home and start searching for drugs if he doesn't have a warrant and reasonable cause. The same goes for the initiation of a traffic stop or DWI investigation in Tennessee.

Someone who is charged with DUI in Tennessee should ask himself and determine with his or her defense lawyer whether the arresting officer involved had probable cause to make the stop and the arrest.


What constitutes probable cause, however, is not always clear. The Supreme Court of the United States is going to clarify the matter of probable cause in regards to a specific kind of so-called evidence. Justices must determine whether an anonymous tip called in or reported to officials is enough to support the legal stop of a vehicle and a subsequent investigation of the driver.

If a motorist or other supposed witness claims to have seen another driver breaking the law or acting suspicious, should that person's mere verbal report give police enough evidence to go off of in order to track down the identified vehicle and begin an investigation? In the out-of-state case of two brothers who were anonymously reported to police, a caller's tip resulted in a traffic stop and drug charges.

Though the case that escalated this probable cause issue to the Supreme Court involves drug charges specifically, the matter directly relates to DWI charges. If anonymous tips are deemed credible sources of probable cause, police would then be able to legally initiate a traffic stop and drunk driving investigation based on a random person's report of alleged erratic driving.

We will post an update when there is a development in this nationally relevant legal matter.


Source: The Associated Press, "Court: Is Anonymous Tip Enough for Traffic Stop?," Mark Sherman, Oct. 1, 2013

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