The Supreme Court has cast some doubt on the legal authority of a police officer to pull over a suspected drunk driver based solely on a caller’s tip. Over a strong dissent by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court let stand a Virginia Supreme Court ruling that held a police officer can follow but cannot stop a suspected drunk driver’s car until the officer sees the driver do something suspicious, such as swerve in a lane, reports the Los Angeles Times.
“The effect of [this] rule will be to grant drunk drivers ‘one free swerve’ before they can be pulled over by the police,” Roberts said. “It will be difficult for an officer to explain to the family of a motorist killed by that swerve that the police had a tip that the driver of the other car was drunk, but that they were powerless to pull him over, even for a quick check.” He noted that hotlines and other services encouraged the public to report suspected drunk drivers. The Supreme Court’s action is not a formal ruling, and it does not require other states to follow Virginia’s lead. The case is likely to encourage more legal challenges to police stops that rely solely on anonymous tips.