The common occurrence of drivers having cell phones with them often creates situations where one motorist reports another motorist driving or actions to the police. With the tremendous surge and popularity of cell phones over the last 10 years, the number of cell phone calls that have led the police to stopping another motorist have increased dramatically. Our office handles numerous DUI/drunk driving cases that have originated with one motorist calling 911 to report erratic or suspect driving. It is an issue that we deal with often and examine closely in the defense of DUI charges.
Two significant appellate court opinions regarding the propriety and requirements of “anonymous tips” as they relate to probable cause to stop another motorist came out in the last four months. Below I will highlight the critical points from each case, and then summarize their effect on South Carolina drivers arrested or charged with DUI/drunk driving from an “anonymous tip.”
First – in Navarette, the US Supreme Court affirmed and endorsed an arrest for DUI stemming from an “anonymous tip.” The key points that the US Supreme Court focused on in deciding that the 4th Amendment had been complied with in Navarette were as follows: First, it is a “totality of the circumstances” analysis that a court should engage in when evaluating whether or not the “anonymous tip” provides the requisite “probable cause” to stop a motorist under the suspicion of DUI/drunk driving and be in compliance with the 4th Amendment protections enjoyed by all citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. In “anonymous tip” cases the crux analysis, in question, is did the tip exhibit “sufficient indicia of reliability” to justify the traffic stop? In Navarette, the US Supreme Court specifically noted the following facts from the case as establishing sufficient “indicia of reliability” to justify the traffic stop. These factors were eye witness knowledge, contemporaneous and timely reporting of the driving observed and the tipsters use of the 911 dispatch system. Additionally, the Court noted that the 911 call reported an “ongoing road emergency” which was significant and stronger than a tip that alleges just general criminal activity.
Using the Navarette analysis, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed a DUI/drunk driving conviction which was based on an “anonymous tip.” This Nebraska Supreme Court opinion was filed August 29, 2014. In reversing the lower court and overturning the defendant’s conviction for DUI/drunk driving the Nebraska Supreme Court specifically noted that the officer in their case had made observations that raised doubts regarding the reliability of the “anonymous tip.” The officer directly observed an inconsistency in the 911 call; and the Court found that this contradiction of reliability had weakened the value of the “anonymous tip”; and overall, the tip in the Nebraska case exhibited much weaker indicia of reliability than the tip did in Navarette. Additionally, the Nebraska case did not involve the report of a “ongoing crime.” The Court noted that there was nothing in the content in the “anonymous tip call” that the driver was driving drunk or that the driver posed any type of threat of public harm by driving recklessly, etcetera. Again, using the Navarette analysis, the Nebraska Supreme Court overturned and reversed a DUI/drunk driving conviction based on an “anonymous tip.”
When representing South Carolina drivers accused of DUI/drunk driving – in cases involving “anonymous tips” – we examine all available information surrounding these “tips” to see if the stop of our client can be suppressed, and the case dismissed. We do this through extensively reviewing all available reports and dispatch recordings, interviews with the arresting officer and preliminary hearings where sworn factual testimony must be provided. The use of all of these tools is valuable in forming the very best argument we can for dismissal of the DUI/drunk driving charge against our client.
Greenville, South Carolina DUI Attorney Steve Sumner primarily handles misdemeanor and felony DUI/drunk driving cases. Steve is a former DUI prosecutor and has been in private practice since 1994. Steve has been recognized as a South Carolina Super Lawyer® in the field of DUI defense since 2013. He is a member of the National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 Trial Lawyers™ for criminal defense. He is a member of the National College for DUI Defense and has held a judicially endorsed AV-Preeminent rating from Martindale-Hubbell® and a “Superb” (10.0 out 10.0) ranking with Avvo since 2011.