Are anonymous tips constitutional? Turns out there may be more than one answer

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

No nursing home operator wants to be accused of abuse or neglect by someone who can't be held accountable.

Yet it happens with alarming regularity. Take Illinois, for example where nearly 20% of those filing complaints against facilities don't leave contact information, according to the State Journal-Register.

As we recently reported, this is allowed in the Land of Lincoln because those filing complaints have the option of doing so anonymously. But an industry-backed measure might soon change that.

Under a House measure introduced by Rep. Mike Unes (R-East Peoria), anonymous cases about abuse or neglect would no longer be investigated. Unes said his proposal would help reduce the number of false complaints made against facilities.

At the very least, he would seem to have the Constitution on his side. For the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment notes that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witness against him.”

Then again, maybe not. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that police can initiate traffic stops based solely on anonymous tips.

By way of background: Pravdo Navarette was stopped in 2008 by a California Highway Patrol. But no police officer had witnessed Navarette driving in a way that would have indicated that he was impaired while driving. Instead, they had been alerted by a tip. Once pulled over, the police determined he was not intoxicated. However, an officer reported smelling the odor of marijuana. After searching his truck, the police found a bundle of cannabis and then arrested both men in the vehicle.

Navarette's legal team argued, among other things, that police did not have reasonable suspicion to pull him over because they had not determined the identity or credibility of the caller. In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, finding that the anonymous caller was considered an eyewitness.

All things considered, it would appear there are strong arguments to be made against and for anonymous tips. And should the proposed bill in question become law, it may be just a matter of time before the Supreme Court is asked to rule again.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.