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Justices agree to hear traffic stop case

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to consider whether a police officer needs to act on more than just an anonymous tip when stopping a suspected drunken or reckless driver.

The court said it would hear the joint appeal filed by Lorenzo Prado Navarette, a driver pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer in 2008, and Jose Prado Navarette, his passenger.

The officer was acting on a phoned-in tip that the pickup truck the two men were traveling in had run the caller off the road. After pulling the truck over, the officer found four bags of marijuana.

The two men subsequently pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana. Based on court papers, it was unclear whether the men were related. Their lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

The legal question before the Supreme Court is whether a police officer stopping a vehicle needs to observe evidence of reckless driving first-hand to meet the U.S. Constitution's requirement of "reasonable suspicion." If the men win the case, the evidence the officer seized during the stop could no longer be admitted as evidence.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court decided against hearing a similar case about the legal justification for traffic stops. Chief Justice John Roberts disagreed, saying the nine-member court should hear what was "an important question that is not answered by our past decisions."

Oral arguments and a decision are due in the court's new term, which starts on Monday and ends in June.

The case is Navarette v. California, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-9490.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Howard Goller and Lisa Von Ahn)

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