This morning, and despite the federal government shutdown, the United States Supreme Court announced that it would take up eight new cases in the coming year. Among them: A curious little number from the Mendo Coast area that was originally defended by the Lost Coast Outpost’s own Jeffrey Schwartz.
Back in Aug. 2008, a Humboldt County dispatcher for the California Highway Patrol took a call from a cell phone. The caller, who was driving Highway 1, reported that someone driving a silver Ford F-150 had just run them off the road. This caller provided a license plate number and reported that the offending vehicle was headed south.
CHP officers from the Fort Bragg office soon located a vehicle matching the description. They tailed it for about five miles then pulled the sucker over. Inside the cab were two men — Lorenzo Navarette and José Navarette, both of Santa Rosa. Inside the bed, it turned out, were 30 pounds of weed, bags of fertilizer, pruning shears and a mountain of turkey bags.
The cops took the weed and busted those guys. At their trial in Mendocino County Superior Court, Schwartz argued that they shouldn’t have done so because the stop itself was unconstitutional. The Superior Court judge disagreed, and so did a state appellate court.
But now the highest court in the land has agreed to take up the case, and will soon ponder the constitutional question raised by Schwartz. That is, as appellate lawyer Paul Kleven, who now represents the Navarettes, puts it:
Does the Fourth Amendment require an officer who received an anonymous tip regarding a drunk or reckless driver to corroborate dangerous driving before stopping the vehicle?
Remember: The arresting officers tailed these guys for some time before pulling them over. No reckless driving was observed. In that case, ask the plaintiffs, how did the officers know that the original tip wasn’t the work of some prankster, or someone with a beef against the Navarettes?
Kleven, in his petition for certiorari, notes that case law follows a very different standard when it comes to firearms. Back in 2000, in the case called Florida v. J.L., the court unanimously held that cops can’t frisk a person for weapons when all they have to go on is a tip from a random so-and-so. That would be unreasonable search and seizure, the court said. So why should motorists be held to a different standard?
The case is somewhat unusual in that it jumped from a state appellate court directly to the U.S. Supremes. In between, both the California Supreme Court and a federal court of appeals declined to hear an appeal.
Read the cert briefs from the petitioners and, in opposition, from the California Attorney General’s office, below: