JACKSON, Mississippi — The Mississippi Supreme Court is being asked to determine if an anonymous tip is enough justification for law enforcement officers to stop vehicles as they looked for an impaired driver.
Carl Richard Cook was convicted of driving while intoxicated — a misdemeanor first offense — in Rankin County. The state Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in 2013. The Supreme Court agreed to hear Cook's appeal this month.
Cook argues he was pulled over by a Barnett Reservoir Patrol officer and a Rankin County deputy on March 12, 2011, "after an anonymous 'be on the lookout' call came over the dispatch radio saying a Silver Avalanche was coming across the dam of the Ross Barnett Reservoir driving erratically."
"It is not in dispute that this tip was totally uncorroborated," he said.
Cook said the tip was the only reason he was stopped.
"The sole question is whether law enforcement officers in Mississippi may conduct an investigatory stop on a vehicle based on an anonymous tip that lacks any corroboration whatsoever, from any source," Cook said.
The Court of Appeals said there is no court case that holds that a law enforcement officer may not make a stop based on an anonymous tip.
Appeals Judge T. Kenneth Griffis, writing for the court, said the officers were justified in making an investigatory stop to resolve an ambiguous situation.
"The details of the tip were corroborated when the exact vehicle was spotted where it was stated it would be in the tip, not to mention that the driver of the car was visibly intoxicated when the officers stopped him," Griffis said.
Cook argued in his petition to the Supreme Court that the informant is unknown and he has no way to challenge the informant's knowledge or credibility.
Cook said his arrest violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures.
Cook argued when they got the tip, law enforcement officers had two choices — one was do nothing or, secondly, do more investigating.
Cook said in this case, the officers decided to further investigation by trailing his Avalanche. Court records show the officers testified the vehicle was not being driven erratically but they pulled it over anyway.
Cook argued he remained protected by the Fourth Amendment after he crossed the Reservoir and he should have been left alone.
"An uncorroborated anonymous tip has ambiguity problems that have nothing to do with the subject of the tip, and without sufficient corroboration a stop based on such is an intrusion that is not allowed by the Fourth Amendment," Cook said.
For his conviction, Cook was sentenced to 48 hours in jail, which was suspended. He was fined $1,000, of which $500 was suspended leaving $500 to pay.