DWI Arrests From Anonymous Tips

“Can I be charged and arrested for Driving While Impaired (DWI) based on someone calling 911, and merely stating that my driving was bad?”

According to the recent United States Supreme Court case, Navarettev. California, 572 U.S. ___ (2014), an anonymous tip may sometimes be sufficient to justify a stop of vehicle based on reasonable suspicion of impaired driving. The opinion in Navarette, is both troublesome and alarming, and on its face permits wide-ranging law enforcement discretion in stopping vehicles based on anonymous tips.

Naverette, the 5-4 majority opinion authored by Justice Thomas, pointed out that anonymous tips alone seldom provide reasonable suspicion to initiate a traffic stop; however, “under appropriate circumstances”, they can provide sufficient indicia of reliability to satisfy reasonable articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. The majority laid out 3 factual requirements to justify such ‘appropriate circumstances’: 1) that the caller provided a basis of knowledge (i.e. eyewitness knowledge), 2) call to law enforcement was placed contemporaneously with the allegedly poor driving, thus making the call reliable and unlikely fabricated, and 3) the call came via the 911 emergency system, therefore providing some safeguards against false reports with immunity.

Nowhere does the opinion state that this is an exhaustive list of the requirements, and a footnote of the Navarette decision suggests that the “anonymity” of the caller in Navarette might have been loosely construed. The caller actually identified herself to the 911 dispatcher, and simply failed to be present in court. Not exactly anonymous then. Also, the alleged driving reported was egregiously bad and dangerous. It led to another driver being literally run off the road. Furthermore, the alleged reckless driving and the stop of the vehicle were extremely close in time, only five minutes separating the reported driving and the vehicle’s seizure. Nonetheless, it must be noted that Justice Scalia’s dissent criticizes the majority opinion as being a ‘freedom destroying cocktail of errors’.

Notwithstanding the prevailing precedent of our Supreme Court, North Carolina appellate courts have treated anonymous tips with skepticism because of their far-reaching impact and due to their potential to be fabricated. Specifically, in State v. Blankenship, 748 S.E.2d 616 (2013), the North Carolina Court of Appeals rejected an anonymous tip with almost the identical factual circumstances. The Court of Appeals held that there was no reasonable suspicion to stop when a taxi driver called law enforcement anonymously and stated that a red mustang was ‘driving erratically and running over traffic cones’. The Court went on to opine that the tip was anonymous (the identity of the taxi driver was unknown), and there was no law enforcement corroboration other than the vehicle’s direction of travel.

With the constitution, there are floors, not ceilings. In other words, what our United State’s Supreme Court rules, creates the minimum standards of constitutional protections that can be offered in any given state in our Union. These minimum standards are floors. State’s on the other hand, have the ability to offer greater protections as they deem fit, enhancing the constitutional protections and liberties the State’s citizens enjoy, above the floor that the Supreme Court sets. In attempting to analyze the current state of anonymous tip Driving While Impaired cases in North Carolina, the Dummit Fradin Driving While Impaired practice team fervently argues that the Supreme Court’s Naverette decision outlined a constitutional floor of what the bare minimal standard for an anonymous tip related to a vehicle stop for impaired driving. However, North Carolina and its judiciary have the discretion to require more stringent standards for what constitutes a valid stop based on reasonable suspicion rooted in an anonymous tip. As such, the attorneys at Dummit Fradin advocate that the sufficient indicia of reliability and adequate law enforcement corroboration in conjunction with North Carolina’s progeny of anonymous tip cases must be satisfied for an anonymous tip to be upheld.

The experienced attorneys on the Dummit Fradin Driving While Impaired practice team have a strong command of the anonymous tip-reasonable suspicion law, and zealously advocate on behalf of their clients. If you were stopped for suspicion of Driving While Impaired in North Carolina based on an anonymous tip, contact the Dummit Fradin team today to have your case analyzed.