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When is a drunk driving case not a drunk driving case?

If a driver swerves on a road, and forces another vehicle to make evasive maneuvers to avoid a car accident, is it logical to assume the driver was intoxicated and allow the police to stop that vehicle under the suspicion that he or she is a drunk driver? The U.S. Supreme Court answered yes in a case, where an anonymous tip phoned into 911 provided the highway patrol with the grounds to stop the vehicle.

What may be the most notable feature of the decision, other than allowing anonymous 911 tips to be used by the police to stop motorists suspected of a DUI, was Justice Scalia's dissent, which has been described as "scathing."

The problem with the Navarette case is that while the facts are superficially appealing, the facts undercut the validity of the stop.

The anonymous tipster claimed a pickup truck almost ran her off the road. She gave the make, model and license plate. She did not claim the driver was drunk. The highway patrol located the vehicle at a spot on the highway that matched the tipster's identification and movement of the vehicle.

However, at this point, the officers had nothing more than a vehicle moving south on a highway. They observed it for five minutes and witnessed no traffic violations and no indication of drunk driving. Nonetheless, they stopped the vehicle. At that time they smelled marijuana, searched the vehicle and found 30 pounds of the drug.

But nothing in the tip suggested they were transporting marijuana or engaging in any other criminal activity. The stop was little better than a random, suspicionless stop, which should be prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.

This case is troubling, and further damages the Fourth Amendment, or in the understated words of Justice Scalia, it is a "freedom-destroying cocktail."

Source: NPR.com, "Supreme Court Gives Police New Power To Rely On Anonymous Tips," Katie Barlow and Nina Totenberg, April 22, 2014 

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