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The Anonymous Dui Tipster


Generally, an officer can stop a motorist if the officer has reasonable suspicion based on facts known to the officer that the motorist violated a traffic law. What if an anonymous tipster calls the police claiming someone is driving recklessly, possibly drunkenly? If the officer does not observe anything about the motorist’s driving, facts that would support someone is a potential drunk driver are not known to the officer at the time the officer makes a stop. Can an officer stop someone based on an anonymous tip alone?

The California Supreme Court, in the 2006 case of People v. Wells, answered this very question. In short, the Court said that “the grave risks posed by an intoxicated highway driver” justifies a brief investigatory stop. It found that there are certain dangers alleged in anonymous tips that are so great, such as a person carrying a bomb, which would justify a search even without a showing of reliability. The court went on to say that a “drunk driver is not at all unlike a bomb, and a mobile one at that.”

Citing the United States Supreme Court case of Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the Court in Wells essentially created a public safety exception for anonymous DUI tipsters. Recall that the Sitz case upheld the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints when there is a complete lack of articulable facts indicating an immediate risk of harm. The Wells court applied the reasoning behind the Sitz case to its case. The state’s interest in preventing drunk driving outweighs the relatively minor inconvenience to individual motorists in being briefly stopped and detained based on an anonymous tip.

There are several problems with this standard. As the dissent in Wells pointed out, the majority “assum[es] that the tip came from another driver with personal knowledge defendant was weaving all over the roadway,” when there are no facts to support the assumption. The other problem with using the Sitz case is that Sitz authorized the mere stop of all motorists and that investigation for DUI beyond a mere stop would require actual suspicion of a DUI for individualized drivers. Not so with anonymous tipsters

Who knows who’s making the tips? According to Wells, who cares? It’s enough that someone, anyone, has made a “tip.” And when they do, officers can target you, stop you and investigate for a DUI even if they have not personally witnessed you doing anything wrong.

The post The Anonymous DUI Tipster appeared first on Law Offices of Taylor and Taylor - DUI Central.

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