There have been cases where concerned citizens have called in to the police about a person that they believe may be driving drunk. When the witness sees someone driving poorly, he or she calls 911 and reports that they think that someone may be driving while impaired. The 911 operator will ask for identifying information about the car, will find out where the suspect is, and which way he or she is headed.
A police officer will dispatch to the area to find the vehicle that that tipster is calling about. If the police officer observes bad driving with his or her own eyes, then the traffic stop is legally fine, because the officer has corroborated the tip. However, what would happen if the officer found the vehicle and it was not breaking any laws? Or, what if the officer finds the vehicle, but the driver is standing outside of it and there is no driving to observe? Unfortunately, the law is not as clear as you would expect it to be.
When Can an Officer Make a Stop Based on a Tip?
This can be a difficult area of law for DWI attorneys, because the outcome in each individual case can be so very different. A judge will decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether an anonymous tip is sufficient for the police to conduct a stop of the individual. In order to be sufficient, it must be shown that the tip is specific as to the vehicle’s description, and any other information that lends sufficient “indicia of reliability.” State v. McArn, 159 N.C. App. 209 (2003).
If the tip is not reliable enough, then the police have to independently corroborate the tip. For example, they may view bad driving by the suspect. A couple of cases can illustrate this point. In State v. Maready, 326 N.C. 614 (2008), a citizen called the police to report erratic driving. The police saw a drunk person stumble over to the vehicle and get into it. In this case the court determined the officers did have the legal authority to make the stop.
In another case, State v. Peel, 196 N.C. App. 668 (2009), the police received a tip that a person was committing a DWI. The officers saw the person do a single “weave” in his own lane and stopped him. In this case, the court found that there was no reasonable articulable suspicion on which to base the stop. As you can see, it is hard to describe a “one-size fits all” case in which a stop is illegal. When a stop is illegal, then the case is generally dismissed. Catching a legal error, then, can be a game changer in your case.
An experienced DWI attorney will examine your case to look for these legal errors that may help strengthen your case. Sometimes, there is no tip that you may have had too much to drink. There are different ways to get charged with DWI, such as a traffic stop or a checkpoint. For instance, you can be stopped for an expired registration, or for speeding. This ordinary traffic stop turns into a DWI investigation when the officer smells alcohol on your breath. Most of the time, the reasonable suspicion is pretty clear. If reasonable suspicion is clear, the DWI attorney will review the next step in the process: probable cause to arrest.
If you have a DWI case in Monroe, our experienced attorney would like the opportunity to work with you on your case. Mr. Reeves can answer your questions about legal errors in your case, and whether you have an argument that can weaken the case against you.