U.S. Supreme Court splits with the Iowa Supreme Court on anonymous tips of drunk driving

By: Administrator on April 22nd, 2014

By Ryan Koopmans

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Navarette v. California that officers lawfully stopped a vehicle based on an anonymous tipster’s claim that the car had run her off the road. The Court, in a 5-4 decision by Justice Thomas, concluded that the anonymous tip gave officers reasonable suspicion of drunk driving. Back in January, we wrote that the outcome in Navarette could require the Iowa Supreme Court to revisit its decision in State v. Kooima.  That seems almost certain now.

 

In Kooima, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled by a 4-3 vote that officers may not stop a vehicle based solely on an anonymous tip that the driver is drunk. The Court, per Justice Wiggins, held that such a stop violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  The State of Iowa then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that decision, and the Supreme Court has been holding the case pending the outcome in  Navarette.

Based on Justice Thomas’s decision today, it looks like the stop in Kooima may have been okay, at least as far as the Fourth Amendment is concerned.  Indeed, Justice Mansfield’s dissent parallels much of today’s decision in Navarette.  He would have upheld the stop because:

  • –The caller reported criminal activity based on “firsthand contemporaneous observations” (the caller saw the group drinking in a bar and get into the car);
  • –Officers corroborated several predictive statements in the call (they saw the vehicle arrive in town about ten minutes after the call from a bar eight miles away);
  • –“Calling 911 is no way to make a false report and get away with it” (calls are traceable and false reports are criminal); and
  • –The law requires reasonable suspicion, not certainty (maybe a group of guys leaving a bar at 11:21 p.m. didn’t drink much, but officers can stop the car to make sure).

In upholding the stop Navarette, the Supreme Court made similar observations:

  • –The caller “necessarily claimed eyewitness knowledge” (she reported being run off the road by a specific vehicle);
  • –Police confirmed the vehicle’s location shortly after the caller’s “contemporaneous report” (they spotted the vehicle 19 miles to the south 18 minutes after the call);
  • –A tipster would “think twice” before using 911 to make a false report (technology lets authorities trace the calls and false reports are punishable);
  • –Officers need not rule out all possible innocent explanations—say, an “unruly child”—before stopping a vehicle (waiting could have “disastrous consequences”).

After Navarette, Justice Mansfield’s dissent could soon become the majority opinion in Kooima. But there is a twist. The Iowa Supreme Court decided Kooima under the Federal Constitution. Navarette is the law on that. But if the four justices in the Kooima majority want the same result, and the defendant preserved the argument, they could decide the case the same way under the Iowa Constitution.

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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