January 22, 2014
Earlier today, the Supreme Court held oral argument in Navarette v. California, a Fourth Amendment case on when the police can lawfully pull over a car based on an anonymous tip of wrongdoing. I want to offer a few thoughts on the argument, and in particular to try to explain one potential source of confusion. Unfortunately, the Court has not yet posted the oral argument transcript. All I have to go on right now are others’ reports. So I’ll offer this post for now, assuming those reports are accurate, and if necessary I’ll follow up after the transcript is available.
The facts of the case are very simple. A 911 caller reported that he had just been run off the road while going southbound on Highway 1 near a specific mile marker by a silver Ford F150 truck with California license plate number 8-David-94925. Officers spotted the truck and pulled it over. The question in the case is whether the officers had lawful authority to pull over the truck based on the tip.
Longstanding Supreme Court precedent says that the police can make an investigative stop of someone if the police have reasonable suspicion, based on specific and articulable facts, that a person is engaged in or is wanted in connection with criminal activity. The question is, did this tip meet that standard, such that the police could pull over the car when they spotted the truck?