Search and Seizure: Law Enforcement Officers' Ability to Conduct Investigative Traffic Stops Based upon an Anonymous Tip Alleging Dangerous Driving When the Officers Do Not Personally Observe Any Traffic Violations

By York, Jon A. | The University of Memphis Law Review, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Search and Seizure: Law Enforcement Officers' Ability to Conduct Investigative Traffic Stops Based upon an Anonymous Tip Alleging Dangerous Driving When the Officers Do Not Personally Observe Any Traffic Violations


York, Jon A., The University of Memphis Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

A motorist using his cellular phone called the Blairsburg, Iowa police department and reported that someone in a tan and cream Nissan Stanza, or "something like that," with a license plate beginning with the letters W-O-C, was driving erratically in the northbound lane of Highway 169, eight miles south of Fort Dodge, Iowa.1 The unidentified caller stated that the car was being driven by a "complete maniac," who was passing on the wrong side of the road and cutting off other cars.2 Subsequently, the police dispatchers relayed the caller's tip to patrolling officers.3

Shortly after receiving the dispatch, an officer noticed a tan Nissan Maxima with a license plate that began with the letters WO-C in the northbound lane of Highway 169.4 The officer stopped the car without observing any erratic driving.5 The driver of the Nissan Maxima consented to a search of the vehicle.6 Officers arrested both the driver and the passenger after discovering illegal drugs in the vehicle and in the passenger's possession.7

At trial, the passenger moved to have the evidence obtained from the traffic stop suppressed on the ground that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to make the initial traffic stop.8 The federal district court denied the motion to suppress, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed that decision.9 The Wheat court held that an anonymous tip alleging erratic driving may provide police with reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigative traffic stop, even when an officer does not personally observe any erratic driving or other illegal activity, because of the public safety concerns posed by erratic (and presumably drunk) drivers.10

The Eighth Circuit is the only federal appellate court to address the question of whether an anonymous tip may provide police with reasonable suspicion to stop an alleged erratic driver when an officer does not personally observe a traffic violation. Many state courts, however, have addressed this question.11 Some courts have held that an anonymous tip, without police corroboration of the alleged traffic violation, is unreliable and cannot provide police with reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop.12 Other courts, conversely, have held that such an anonymous tip may provide police with reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop because of the public safety concerns posed by erratic or drunk drivers.13

This note examines the policy and legal reasons for finding that such traffic stops are permissible under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Note first reviews the United States Supreme Court's treatment of investigative stops and anonymous tips. The Note then surveys the decisions of those courts that have held that such traffic stops are unconstitutional, as well as the decisions of other courts that have held such stops to be constitutional. Finally, the Note evaluates and discusses the opposing viewpoints of this issue. The Note argues that an anonymous tip alleging erratic or drunk driving may provide police with reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop because of the danger that erratic and drunk drivers pose to the public.

II. AN OVERVIEW OF INVESTIGATIVE TRAFFIC STOPS

The Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures,"14 and an investigative traffic stop is a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.15 The United States Supreme Court has expressed a preference that police conduct searches and seizures pursuant to a warrant.16 Circumstances exist, however, in which police may conduct warrantless searches and seizures.

A. Terry v. Ohio and the Reasonable Suspicion Standard

In Terry v. Ohio,17 the United States Supreme Court held that a police officer may stop and briefly detain an individual without a warrant if the officer lacks probable cause for an arrest but believes that the suspect is, or is about to be, engaged in criminal activity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Search and Seizure: Law Enforcement Officers' Ability to Conduct Investigative Traffic Stops Based upon an Anonymous Tip Alleging Dangerous Driving When the Officers Do Not Personally Observe Any Traffic Violations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.