The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled yesterday that police, acting on an anonymous tip, have the right to stop an auto forcibly to determine who is inside and to check the inside visually.
By a 2-to-1 majority, a court panel, over the vehement dissent of Judge Harry T. Edwards, denied the appeal of two men convicted of heroin possession charges. The men contended that evidence seized after their car was stopped violated safeguards against unreasonable search and seizure.
In writing for the majority, Judge Patricia M. Wald acknowledged that some courts have held that investigative stops are not justified by anonymous tips. She took note of claims that innocent citizens could suffer indiscriminate harassment as a result of tips from mischief-makers or disgruntled neighbors.
But she went on to conclude that an anonymous tip about an ongoing transaction, that gives details of time and place and that includes specific descriptions of people and cars, and that in addition is verified through surveillance, does give adequate grounds to stop and question the occupants.
In his dissent, Edwards noted that the case occurred in Washington's inner city and expressed doubt whether police, on the basis of an anonymous tip, would stop well-to-do residents of the city's affluent suburbs.
While Wald described the matter as a closed case, Edwards contended that the police violated the 4th Amendment to the Constitution.