The Supreme Court of the United States, which has what one might call a spotty record for getting it right by nearly everyone’s assessment, has continued that storied streak in a case called Navarette v. California. In that case the court found that a 911 call that reported that a person had been run off the road by a Silver Ford F150 with license plate 8D94925. A CHP officer found the truck shortly thereafter and after pulling the truck over, smelled marijuana and discovered 30 lbs. of marijuana in the bed of the pick up truck. Every court on the way to the Supreme Court found that the stop was valid because the report gave some hint that the driver might be driving under the influence. The case stands for the proposition that a 911 call with some information is going to be enough to pull someone over to see what’s going on.
But let’s take a look at the case using the jaundiced eye of we here at Excessive Bail. First, the poor pickup driver (after losing his motion to dimiss the case for lack of probable cause, entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. In our neck of the woods he would have been sent to prison for many years (not 90 days–but that’s Illinois, so there’s that). Secondly, notice how the court takes this one report of driving someone off the road, at face value, and uses it to give police officers the right to pull someone over. No one questions, how a person might get run off the road and then magically get the plate number of the truck that ran them off the road. Secondly, the court by allowing this police stop encourages rival drug dealers to call 911 after they have sold drugs to competitors, and if they are in Illinois, have their competitors arrested for many years (good job! Supreme Court). Lastly, the court hands unbridled power to police officers who already have near unbridled power (see the article on resisting arrest), because of course they do.
If this case is any indication, we should figure on the police to need no reason at all to stop you about 20 years from now.
**Note: the decision is so bad that a police friendly justice like Scalia wrote a dissent (if that tells you anything).
Law Dude, Ray Flavin, is a DUI attorney who represents drivers that have been charged with DUI in McHenry County Illinois. His law offices are located across the street from the McHenry County Courthouse in Woodstock, IL. You can reach him by phone at (815)669-6699