You are driving down the road—completely sober—and all of the sudden, you accidently cut off another car. Oooops, sorry about that buddy. You get honked at, and you drive like you did on your driver's exam the rest of the way home—10 and 2 you tell yourself. However, while you are driving home, the car you just cut off is on the phone with the police telling them how you cut them off, and you must be drunk because you swerved into their lane. The police then take the tip, and find you down the road. They pull you over, and start asking you questions about drinking and driving.
During the questioning, the police notice a bag with a white pill in it sitting in your cup holder. They ask you what it is, and you tell them that you have a terrible headache and you got a prescribed 500mg Vicodin tablet from your aunt, who has back pain. You tell the officer you are neither a drug dealer, nor are you a drug kingpin, you just have a bad migraine headache. However, the officer arrests you for possession of a narcotic, and takes you into the police station for booking. WAIT…weren't the police asking me questions about drunk driving? Didn't I get pulled over for supposedly driving drunk? How did this happen? This cannot be right? Can it?
Navarette v. California
The exact above situation happened in Navarette v. California, however substitute marijuana instead of the Vicodin pill. A completely harmless situation, other than your heart jumping out of your chest because you accidently went left-to-center a bit, turns into a horrible criminal offense in just minutes. The United States Supreme Court handed down this case in July 2014, and some very interesting things can be found in the case.
What this case means
The Court held in its majority opinion (the one that wins), an anonymous tip—although inherently unreliable—can be used as "reasonable suspicion" to pull someone over for criminal activity. The Court reasoned that certain factors surrounding the caller's reliability in this situation was high enough to warrant the police stop (called Terry stop). These factors included calling 911, getting the description of the car, getting the correct license plate number, and the quickness of the call. This, in the Court's eye, was enough to justify the stop for criminal activity.
This literally means that even though you may or may not be drunk and behind the wheel, you can be pulled over from someone telling the police that you might be drunk—yes, you might be drunk. You could be completely sober and have never drank a day in your life, and still be pulled over for criminal activity merely because someone thought you could be drinking and driving.
Is this a problem?
Depending on whom you ask, this could be a really big problem, or a really great lesson. On one hand, this could be a really big problem because law enforcement does not have to have their normal probable cause to search your car in these situations—thus infringing on your Fourth Amendment rights. Nonetheless, on the other hand, some would say that if you were not breaking the law in the first place—such as using a non-prescribed narcotic pain reliever that you got from your Aunt Marge for your pounding headache—you would not be in this situation to begin with. This is a great lesson to learn—do not break the law. However, the fact remains that no one is perfect—things happen, and cases like Navarette will continue to plague our court system. Can it get any worse? Your guess is as good as ours.
Have you been charged with an OVI or a DUI? Give The Meranda Law Firm, LTD a call today where we will work in the utmost diligent manner to get your case resolved with your needs in mind. We are dedicated legal professionals who are willing, able, and ready to help.