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When can law enforcement pull over a vehicle?

On behalf of Pat Lauer at Law Offices of Patrick F. Lauer, Jr. LLC

Within the next year, the Supreme Court plans to decide whether a driver’s anonymous tip about reckless driving is sufficient for law enforcement officers to pull over a car, without validation of the motorist’s dangerous driving acts. At this time, there is no uniform answer on this topic among state and federal courts.

In this case, the Court will address an appeal by two individuals who admitted to transporting marijuana after officers pulled over their pickup truck. The detention was based on a third-party report of erratic driving.

In this particular case, authorities had not actually witnessed the reckless driving. Nevertheless, after dispatchers received a 911 call, which alerted that the suspect had run the caller’s car off the road, officers took initiative and pursued the driver. They were able to locate the vehicle based on a description of its model, color and license plate.

After officers smelled what they thought was the odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle, they searched the truck and reportedly discovered four bags of the drug. The driver and his passenger were arrested immediately.

Defendants appeal their conviction

While the defendants initially entered a guilty plea, they have now appealed, noting that the traffic stop was in violation of their constitutional rights. In this argument, the defendants site an earlier high court decision, which stated that anonymous tips, alone, are not typically sufficient for authorities to detain or search someone. Now, presented before the Court is whether anonymous tips concerning reckless or drunk driving also require something more.

Just four years ago, the Court declined to hear this same issue. The prior case involved a defendant who was arrested after officers received an anonymous tip that the suspect was driving under the influence. At that time, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that the Court erred in not hearing the case.

Now, it appears as though the Court is ready to listen to the debate. Sources report that the case will probably be argued in January 2014. The result of the ruling could seriously influence rooted Fourth Amendment principles.

If you have been suspected of a crime, it is imperative to retain strong legal assistance. You may be guilty; however, if your constitutional rights were violated in the investigation, you may have an advantage in your case. It is the job of law enforcement to respect and honor the safeguards provided by the Fourth Amendment. If they do not investigate within the legal parameters, authorities are breaking the law.