As a former law enforcement officer, I always cringe when I hear talk-show pundits commenting on new Supreme Court decisions. It seems a given that they will leave out most of the reasoning of the court and selectively present only the portions and interpretations that support their own views.
Currently, the topic is the recent Supreme Court decision allowing vehicles to be stopped and sometimes searched, based on information received from an anonymous caller (“Court upholds traffic stop based on anonymous tip,” Web, April 22).
The anonymous caller in the case in question reported to the police that a vehicle had almost run him off the road. The caller added that the driver seemed to be under the influence. The officers located the vehicle and apparently observed no erratic driving that would support a belief of driving under the influence.
It is at this point that the talk-show pundits leave the intellectual analysis and move into the agenda analysis. Their position has generally been that with no erratic driving observed, the officers had no right to stop the vehicle. They went on to theorize that some officers would now start calling in anonymous tips to justify a stop-and-search of others.
It’s amazing that these officers honestly reported no indications of driving under the influence. Is there a disconnect here?
In this situation, the officers were to ignore the “They almost ran me off the road” part of the call, not knowing if the complaint was the result of a medical condition, road rage or some other situation requiring police action. To them, the anonymous part was all that mattered. What if the anonymous caller had said, “I saw a man force a woman into his trunk”? Should the officers ignore a call like this just because it was made anonymously?
Anonymous calls usually are reports from citizens who are not completely sure that what they observed was illegal or important, or they just prefer not to get personally involved.
Stopping and searching people or vehicles is a cumulative process. At each step, the officer is adding or subtracting facts and circumstances that ultimately lead to the decision to stop and search or to move on.
In the case before the Supreme Court, the officers could smell marijuana and subsequently found 30 pounds of it in the vehicle. That’s a lot of smell and hard to miss.
ROBERT A. POGGI