But here's an interesting and tricky question: what if the erratic driving was witnessed by an anonymous tipster, and a police officer makes the stop without having seen the bad driving for himself? That's a question central to a case that will likely go before the U.S. Supreme Court in January of next year.
The incident occurred in California after someone made an anonymous 911 call to report that a Ford 150 pickup was driving recklessly and had run the caller off the road. Dispatchers were provided with important information including the truck's license plate number, which was then passed along to the California Highway Patrol.
Officers spotted the vehicle and made the traffic stop, despite the fact that they did not observe the reckless driving themselves. During the stop, an officer smelled marijuana and searched the truck. Four large bags of it were found and the two men in the truck pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana.
They later appealed their conviction based on the traffic stop itself. A previous ruling by a high court set the precedent that it is not generally allowable for police to conduct a search or detain someone when acting solely on an anonymous tip. The question that the U.S. Supreme Court will address is whether anonymous tips should be treated differently when they concern drunk driving or reckless driving.
In recent years, several important criminal cases have gone before the nation's highest court, and the rulings have proven to be influential around the country, including here in Utah. Based on the details and the questions posed, there is reason to believe that this case may prove to be important to the future of criminal defense as well.
Source:Denver Post, "Court: Is anonymous tip enough for traffic stop?" Mark Sherman, Oct. 1, 2013