Live streaming while driving drunk is one thing…but what about an anonymous complaint? Can any old complaint of your driving get you pulled over?
See Navarette v. California, 134 S.Ct 1683 (2014) (April 22). See also the Harvard Law Review summary of this case.
So live streaming your own crime of drunk driving is definitely going to get you pulled over.
But can an anonymous tip or complain that you are driving drunk also get you pulled over?
How It Begins…
The case began when an anonymous 911 caller called the police and reported that a
“ …silver Ford F150 pickup truck with license plate number 8D94925 had run an unidentified reporting party off the roadway … ”
- Finds the truck
- Follows It
- For Five Minutes
- Finds or Sees Nothing
- Driver is Driving Fine
So, naturally the officer stops the car anyway.
Police say they smelled marijuana. They search the truck and 30 pounds of weed are found. Wham! The case gets litigated all way to the Supreme Court.
Anonymous Tip Law
The law in this area has been (and I think still is) that…
…when law enforcement has some “particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.”
This is basic Terry stop principles.
When it comes to anonymous tips, without more, the tip:
“seldom demonstrates” a sufficient “basis of knowledge or veracity” to justify a stop. However, where a tip bears “sufficient indicia of reliability” rising to “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” an investigatory traffic stop may be justified.
So an anonymous 911 call requires some indicia of reliability.
Factors of Reliability
In this case, the facts revealed that three important factors of reliability existed.
- The reporter had necessarily claimed eyewitness knowledge of . . . dangerous driving.
- Given the time frames involved the tipster likely called the police right after he or she was run off the road. Temporal proximity is still an important indicator because the U.S. legal system “generally credits” the notion that “contemporaneous reports” will be “especially trustworthy.
- The fact that the person called 911 is significant. This suggests the tip was truthful because the system’s design makes it possible to identify and trace callers” and safeguard against false reporting. Thus, “a reasonable officer” might expect a liar to avoid dialing 911.
Factors Against Reliability
In this case, the facts revealed five important factors that weighed against reliability.
- Caller was anonymous. Anonymity is inconsistent with accountability. Why would the caller not want to be identified?
- For five minutes police saw no bad driving, thus discrediting the concern over an intoxicated driver.
- An “eyewitness” contemporaneous caller does nothing to corroborate a likelihood of criminal activity. Exactly how does immediacy lends to credibility? In this case, a person driving on the streets saw a truck and had enough time to write the license plate down. So What?
- Most people are unaware that 911 callers can be identified.
- What does “ran me off the road” mean? This raises no likelihood that the driver was drunk. The vast majority of drivers act careless, reckless and stupid while driving. A single instance of erratic driving does not equate to intoxicated driving.
The Court found that the “totality of the circumstances” established “reasonable suspicion that the driver was intoxicated.” Navarette, 134 S. Ct. at 1686.
The Supreme Court of the United States held that an anonymous tipster’s claim that a driver had recently run her off the road gave police reasonable suspicion to stop that driver’s vehicle to investigate if the driver was intoxicated.
The court felt that the nature of the call implied an ongoing crime of drunk driving. The court wrote that the “commonsense approach” to fourth amendment analysis allows for an inference of intoxication from certain driving behaviours.
In past cases featuring an anonymous caller, the courts have looked at the type of corroboration the police could provide. The net effect was to beef up the caller's information with independent police observations.
- Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325 (1990)
- Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000); and
- Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213, 103 S. Ct. 2317 (1983).
There does not appear to have been any “beefing” up of the caller's information in this case.
The JL case involved a caller reporting a man with a gun. The police inappropriately arrested the defendant. This case appears to be very similar to that situation.
We have a person who is out driving in the streets. The person sees what they think is a crime, and they call it in. The gun found on JL was suppressed because the police failed to adequately corroborate the unidentified caller’s information.
Here the police absolutely did not corroborate the information.
Why Is This Case Different?
This guy was suspected of DUI and the minor in JL was only suspected of carrying a gun. Hard to see on the surface why the outcomes were
Maybe we can make sense of the case by seeing that this caller was in fact calling as a victim.
Something happened to her or him. Keeping this in mind helps make some sense of the points brought up by the court. Additionally, this small detail fits nicely with the current state of the law.
The law allows a full blown arrest upon the word of a single person and nothing else.
Furthermore, the court did say a stop based on an anonymous tip of a lesser “infraction” such as “driving without a seatbelt” would not be constitutional.
But an allegation of “a specific and dangerous result of the driver’s conduct” would justify a stop…so the court was obviously thinking about the “danger” that the caller was exposed to.
It Kind Of Comes Together
The court also made some illogical comments in this decision. However, with the “victim” idea in our mind, the comments begin to make sense.
For example, the court said that the officers not seeing signs of an impaired driver was immaterial. The court said police do not have to “rule out the possibility of innocent conduct” that might have explained a brief bout of recklessness.
Yet, the entire body of cases before this one dealt with the extent that police could “corroborate” the caller's information. That means the police were explicitly being expected to go uncover some reason that they could use to believe the caller.
No, they were not required to find an innocent explanation for the observed behavior…but they definitely needed to find something other than caller's word.
This only makes sense if we think of the caller as a victim.
Say For Example…
Say for example this was a complaint that a stranger just punched another person in the face. The police, when they find the stranger, don’t have to wait for the stranger to punch another person in the face before they can arrest him for the first punch in the face.
Yea, But This Caller Was “Anonymous”
Ok. Even if we think of this caller as a “victim“, they were still anonymous.
Anonymity is inconsistent with reliability.
Well, the case law in Illinois strongly suggest and flat out says that a 911 call is not anonymous because the caller can in fact be identified and they expose themselves to prosecution for false call. See People v. Minx (2nd Dist. 2004).
So as far as Illinois courts are concerned, citizens do know that their identities can be ascertained from the 911 call system. Therefore, this caller was not legally anonymous.
Because of all this Justice Thomas refused to say that this officer “acted unreasonably” by stopping a driver whose reported behavior indicated intoxication.
By thinking of the caller as a victim this stuff then begins to make sense.
Totally glad we cleared all that up.