Case Update: The Anonymous Tip

 Posted on January 16,2015 in Criminal Law

anonymous tip, Arlington Heights DUI defense attorney, dangerous driving, drinking and driver, drunk driver, crime stopper tipsIn most DUI arrests, an officer sees a motorist breaking a traffic law and that observed violation leads to an initial stop. But, what if an officer receives an anonymous tip about a drunk driver, and pulls the driver over based solely on that information? The Supreme Court considered that question earlier this year in Navarette v. California. In a 5-4 decision, the justices ruled that these stops are legal, provided the officers follow certain protocols.


In the case of Navarette v. California, officers received a 911 call about a pickup that had "ran the reporting party off the roadway." A short time thereafter, CHP officers pulled over a truck, which was occupied by two men. After the officers found 30 pounds of marijuana, the pair was arrested. At their trial, they moved to suppress the marijuana, arguing that it had been illegally obtained. However, the trial judge denied the motion, the California Court of Appeals affirmed their convictions, and the case found its way to the Supreme Court.


While recognizing that an anonymous tip, in and of itself, is not reliable enough to give an officer the authority to detain someone, the justices, led by Clarence Thomas, held that certain other elements could add legitimacy to a tip and thereby make it legally reliable.

  • Amount of Detail: The tipsters must provide enough information to satisfy a judge that they actually saw a person or vehicle commit an illegal, or allegedly illegal, act.
  • Elapsed Time: In the case of Navarette v. California, Mr. Navarette was pulled over only a few minutes after the 911 call, and a short distance from the reported location.
  • Technology: Since emergency calls are recorded and tracked, a false tipster may think twice about calling 911.

These factors, along with the fact that being "run off the road" is akin to reckless driving, convinced the Court that the anonymous tip was reliable.


This ruling basically expanded police powers. While "Crime Stopper" tips and other similar phone-ins may require some additional corroboration, officers can rely on 911 calls in most circumstances. An anonymous tip caller must provide details, such as a license plate number or a very specific description, and an officer must detain a suspect before a tip "gets cold."

Police use both their eyes and ears to catch DUI suspects. For a free consultation with an experienced Arlington Heights DUI defense attorney, contact Scott F. Anderson. Mr. Anderson focuses exclusively on criminal defense.

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