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In Miss., Anonymous Tip Isn't Enough for a DUI Stop

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 24, 2015 3:58 PM

Last year, in Navarette v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court said that an anonymous tip alleging drunk driving was sufficient to create reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop of the car described.

Mississippi doesn't seem so sure. The state's supreme court deviated from Navarette earlier this month when it held that police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop a car based solely on an anonymous allegation of drunk driving.

Flashing a Badge

Prior to Navarette, a majority of states said that drunk driving was a serious-enough crime to override the U.S. Supreme Court's traditional requirement that police had to independently corroborate anonymous tips where the only thing the tip did was identify a person without somehow tying that person to criminality.

Of course, that's only the outer boundary of the Fourth Amendment; states can be more protective if they choose, and that's the choice Mississippi has made. Carl Richard Cook was convicted of a DUI based on an anonymous call describing the car and accompanied by a claim that the driver was "driving erratically and the driver of the vehicle possibly flashing a badge of some sort." (In reality, he had "flashed" a business card, though the details of even that are slim.)

Police found the car and pulled it over using the reasonable suspicion from the anonymous tip. "Based on subsequent interactions," policed arrested Cook, the driver, for a DUI.

Where's the Corroboration?

The court sided with Florida v. J.L. in this case, holding that even in a situation where an anonymous informant alleges that someone is "driving erratically," which could indicate a DUI, officers still have to corroborate the informant's claims before they have the reasonable suspicion necessary to pull a car over. Correctly identifying the car isn't enough and police can't take an anonymous allegation of criminal activity at face value.

Like a minority of states that require corroboration for stops based on a DUI allegation, the court here said that deciding otherwise "can open the door for legal stops based on tips provided by persons with intent to harass or embarrass others."

Justice Randy Pierce dissented, essentially invoking a public-policy balancing test that "involves a weighing of the gravity of the public concerns served by the seizure, the degree to which the seizure advances the public interest, and the severity of the interference with individual liberty."

Pierce's dissent attempted to claim that an accurate description of the car, along with its location, was sufficient "indicia of reliability" to support reasonable suspicion, but those are exactly the same kinds of "pedestrian facts" that the Supreme Court has said don't make a tipster more reliable, as they're readily observable by anyone and do nothing to address the key problem with anonymous informants, which is whether they have knowledge of the suspect's connection to criminality.

Cook will probably stop here. The ruling doesn't implicate anything other than Mississippi's own decision to require more than what the Fourth Amendment does when it comes to DUI stops due to anonymous informants.

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