California Supreme Court Allows Traffic Stops Based on Uncorroborated Tips

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California Supreme Court Allows Traffic Stops Based on Uncorroborated Tips

In a setback for privacy and civil rights, the California Supreme Court has ruled that police can use anonymous tips to stop suspected drunk drivers even if the officer doesn’t spot any illegal activity. An attorney plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled that a California Highway Patrol officer acted properly when he pulled over a San Joaquin Valley woman after an anonymous caller said her van was weaving, even though the officer witnessed no signs of impairment. The woman later failed a field sobriety test and was arrested for heroin possession.

The ruling gives police in California the broadest powers in the nation to pull over suspected drunk drivers and other motorists based only on anonymous tips. In recent months, the state has posted signs urging motorists to report suspected DUI / DWI drivers to the CHP. Those signs, coupled with the high court’s decision, open the door for abuse by drivers involved in road rage or grudges unrelated to criminal activity.

Three justices opposed the ruling, saying police should not be allowed to stop motorists without witnessing illegal activity. “One of the hallmarks of the liberty guaranteed to persons in this country is that agents of the government cannot arrest, seize or detain them without a good reason,” Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for the minority.

The panel’s ruling comes on the heels of a string of high court decisions that erode the rights of criminal suspects across California and the nation. The California Supreme Court recently ruled that police can enter some DUI / DWI suspects’ homes without a warrant to administer chemical tests.

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police can enter suspects’ homes without knocking if they have a valid search warrant. However, the justices also recently ruled that police cannot pat down a suspect for weapons based on an uncorroborated tip.

Defense attorneys decried the California Supreme Court’s ruling on anonymous tips as a setback for privacy and civil rights that may resonate for decades.

“Anyone can call in an anonymous tip for any reason,” said Darren T. Kavinoky, one of California’s top criminal defense attorneys. “This ruling essentially allows police to go on fishing expeditions in the vehicle of any driver unfortunate enough to be the target of an anonymous tipster.”

Despite the setback, motorists arrested for drunk driving or any other criminal offense involving an anonymous tip still have numerous options to launch an effective defense. An experienced California criminal defense attorney can challenge evidence on a number of fronts and dismantle a prosecutor’s case.

The top attorneys of the Kavinoky Law Firm are experienced in defending DUI / DWI cases and other criminal charges throughout California. The firm’s expert attorneys will develop an aggressive defense strategy to challenge charges of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, drug possession, or any other criminal offense.