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911 Call May Be Sufficient Basis for Michigan DUI Stop

Sep 2nd, 2016 DUI Stops

With cell phones being ever present in our society, it is becoming increasingly common for people to use their cell phones to report a Michigan driver they think might be intoxicated.  If the police officer does not independently observe a traffic violation, then there may be a basis to challenge the stop. However these DUI cases are very fact-specific, and you should always have a DUI lawyer look at your case before drawing any conclusions.

A recent case will undoubtedly have an impact on how your DUI lawyer reviews your case is Navarette v. California, ___ U.S. ___, 134 S.Ct. 1683, 188 L.Ed.2d 680 (2014) a 911 caller claimed that they had just been run off the road by a pickup truck.  The tipster identified the truck, the license number, and where the incident had occurred. A BOL (be on the lookout) radio message went out, and police went in pursuit of the truck.  An officer pulled the truck over even though the officer failed to observe any bad driving of his own. During the traffic stop the police smelled marijuana, and upon searching the truck found four large, closed bags of marijuana in the truck bed.  Navarette and his brother who was with him were charged with illegal possession and transport of marijuana.  Before trial, their lawyer attempted to have the evidence suppressed on the basis that the officers had not corroborated the anonymous tip.

In a close decision the USSC found that the stop, based only on the 911 call, was lawful. Justice Thomas wrote in his majority opinion “under the totality of the circumstances, we find the indicia of reliability in this case sufficient to provide the officer with reasonable suspicion that the driver of the reported vehicle had run another vehicle off the road.” In a sort of ironic twist, the very fact that the call was a 911 call added to its reliably. The Court’s analysis and finding of reliability was based in part on the fact the 911 system uses several technological and regulatory features that safeguard against making false reports with immunity. These safeguards include the fact that 911 calls can be recorded and FCC regulations require the number of the 911 caller to be passed on to the dispatcher.  Thus, this technology allows police to identify 911 callers, and go after them for false reports.

The court therefore concluded that a reasonable officer could surmise that a false tipster would think twice before using the 911 system, and all of this was tantamount to a sort of ad-hoc caller-identification. Also of significance was the apparently short time between the reported incident and the 911 call suggests that the caller had little time to fabricate the report. Furthermore, the Court found it to be important that the tipster reported that she had been run off the road by a specific vehicle and by doing so necessarily claimed an eyewitness basis for the knowledge. Furthermore, the court found that not only was the tip here reliable, but it also created reasonable suspicion of drunk driving. “Running another car off the road suggests the sort of impairment that characterizes drunk driving. While that conduct might be explained by another cause such as driver distraction, reasonable suspicion “need not rule out the possibility of innocent conduct.”’ Citing United States v. Arvizu, 534 U. S. 266.  Finally, the officer’s failure to observe additional suspicious conduct during the short period that he followed the truck did not dispel the reasonable suspicion of drunk driving, and the officer was not required to surveil the truck for a longer period, and because a drunk driver poses a grave danger to the traveling public the police were justified in making the stop even though, when actually following that truck, there was no erratic driving.

In the subsequent case of State v. Rodriguez, 852 NW 2d 705 – (Neb: Supreme Court 2014) the defendant was also stopped based on an uncorroborated 911 call.  Upon contact the officer detected a strong odor of alcohol and noticed that Rodriguez had a flushed face, slurred speech, and bloodshot, watery eyes. After administering three field sobriety tests, the defendant was given a preliminary breath test, the arrested and transported him to the detention center. A breath test suggested a BAC of .226 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath.

Prior to trial the defendant moved to suppress any evidence gathered from the stop and subsequent search, contending that the stop was not based on reasonable and articulable suspicion that a crime had been committed or was about to be committed. The district court overruled the motion to suppress. In its order, the court noted that the stop was justified under two separate analyses. First, the court concluded that the stop could be considered to be a “`first-tier’ contact” for which no Fourth Amendment protections apply. The court found that the officer in question had not used emergency lights or a siren to cause the defendant to stop. Thus, the court determined that a reasonable person would not have believed he was required to stop or that his movement was impeded in any way before the officer activated his patrol car’s emergency lights. Second, analyzing the stop as a “`tier-two’” encounter, the court determined reasonable suspicion existed for the stop because the officer had corroborated the information from the dispatch center. At trial the jury convicted the defendant of DUI.

The appeals court found that this was a second tier traffic stop, and this was conceded by the state in the present appeal.  On this basis the supreme court found that because the stop was based on information supplied by a caller, the reliability of such information was key to determining whether there was reasonable suspicion. An important factor in assessing the reliability of such information is the distinction between whether the person supplying the information is known to law enforcement or the information comes from an anonymous source.  In determining the reliability of the caller, the court reviewed and applied United States Supreme Court precedent.  In doing so, the court found that the officer testified at the suppression hearing that before he saw the defendant’s vehicle, he drove past the location where the person reported having “been pushed out of the vehicle.” Upon inspection, the officer did not see anyone at that location. The fact that the officer did not see anyone at the location claimed by the caller was a contraindication of reliability and weakened the value of the anonymous tip in establishing reasonable suspicion to stop defendant’s vehicle. The anonymous tip in this case bore weaker indicia of reliability than the tip in Navarette v. California, supra.  On this basis the court found “that on the record presented to the district court in this case, the court erred when it determined that there was reasonable suspicion to justify the traffic stop and overruled the defendant’s motion to suppress. Therefore, the Court of Appeals committed reversible error when it affirmed the overruling of the motion to suppress and affirmed the defendant’s conviction of DUI.”