The Iowa Supreme Court May Have to Reconsider its Decision on Anonymous Tips and Drunk Driving

by Ryan Leemkuil | January 24, 2014

By Ryan Leemkuil

Last June, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled 4-3 in State v. Kooima that a police officer 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 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that decision, but as we predicted back in October, the Supreme Court has held the State’s petition pending a ruling on this issue in Navarette v. California.  On Tuesday, the Court heard oral arguments in Navarette, and the questioning suggests that Kooima could soon be on its way back to the Iowa Supreme Court.

In Navarette, two brothers were arrested on drug charges after officers stopped their vehicle based on an anonymous tip that they had run another vehicle off the road.  The Supreme Court took the case to resolve the issue decided in Kooima: whether the Fourth Amendment requires an officer who receives an anonymous tip of drunk or reckless driving to corroborate dangerous driving before making a stop.  During oral argument, the Navarettes’ attorney pressed the Supreme Court for a broad ruling: officers acting on anonymous tips must corroborate the alleged criminal conduct and identifying details before making a stop.

Several Justices seemed skeptical.  Suppose a tipster reports a driver is “throwing bombs out the window” of his car, does the officer have to wait until he actually sees a bomb tossed before stopping the vehicle?  What if a witness reports seeing a man grab a young girl and throw her in the trunk of his car and drive off?  Does the officer have to follow the car for hours trying to corroborate some wrongdoing? Taking things further, what if a tipster reports a terrorist is driving to the center of Los Angeles with an atomic bomb in his car?  Must the officer stand by trying to corroborate some misconduct?  Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia peppered the Navarettes’ attorney with these questions, and they didn’t seem satisfied with the answers.

These hypotheticals were, of course, designed to explore some type of limiting principle.  Perhaps as the seriousness of the crime increases, less (or no) corroboration is required.  But the Navarettes’ lawyer pushed back, arguing that the “seriousness of the claim” should not affect the analysis.  This prompted Justice Kennedy to give the attorney an “A for consistency,” but not necessarily for “common sense.”

Despite the skepticism of several justices, it’s always tough to predict a ruling based on oral arguments.  We’ll have to wait for the decision in Navarette to know whether the Iowa Supreme Court will have to revisit its ruling in Kooima.




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