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U.S. Supreme Court Gives Alabama Police More Tools to Combat DUI

May 1, 2014 - Drunk Driving Accidents by

A recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Navarette v. California will hopefully mean fewer DUI injuries in Alabama, as it gives authorities a greater opportunity to stop reckless and potentially drunk drivers.
Birmingham DUI injury lawyers know that the crux of the Navarette case had to do with reasonable suspicion as it pertains to a defendant’s Fourth-Amendment right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Specifically, the question before the justices was whether information provided by an anonymous 911 tip was enough to establish reasonable suspicion. The court ruled that, in some cases, it is.

The reason this is important for potential victims of DUI is that, No. 1, it provides more incentive for people to call when they see a reckless driver as they know police will be more inclined to act. Secondly, when police are given the authority to stop a car based on an anonymous 911 tip, they can get a possibly dangerous driver off the road faster. Officers may not necessarily have to wait to observe the driver engaged in a traffic violation before initiating a stop.

This ruling is in line with a 1990 decision by the high court in Alabama v. White, where the court found that an anonymous tip, when corroborated by independent police work, provides the basis for the reasonable suspicion necessary to make an investigatory traffic stop.

In the Navarette case, troopers with the state highway patrol stopped a truck occupied by the defendants because it matched the description of a vehicle provided by an anonymous 911 tipster, who had called the dispatch to report the vehicle had run her off the road.

As officers approached the vehicle, they smelled marijuana and, in searching the truck, discovered 30 pounds of marijuana. The defendants were arrested. However when it came time for trial, the defendants moved to suppress evidence gleaned from that stop, arguing that their Fourth Amendment rights were violated because the stop was conducted absent reasonable suspicion. Indeed, the officer never observed the truck engaged in any illegal activity prior to initiating the stop.

The motion was denied, and the two ended up pleading guilty to marijuana trafficking. However, they later appealed on the grounds that the court had erred in denying their motion to suppress. The California Court of Appeals upheld that ruling, and so too did the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices in a split 5-4 decision found that the stop complied with the Fourth Amendment because, when based on the totality of the circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the driver of that truck was intoxicated.

While the court held in White that an anonymous tip alone rarely demonstrates enough basis for reasonable suspicion, it may be enough under appropriate circumstances.

Additional Resources:

Navarette v. California, April 22, 2014, U.S. Supreme Court

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