If you’ve driven in the last few years, you’ve no doubt seen signs on the side of the freeway advising drivers to report anyone they suspect of drunk driving to 911. But can you really be stopped and arrested for drunk driving just because someone reported you to the police? Like many legal issues, the answer is a bit complex, says Vista DUI lawyer Peter M. Liss.
Traffic Stops Without Reasonable Suspicion
Courts often have a difficult time balancing the rights of the individual against the best interests of society. While the government would obviously like to put an end to drunk driving, that’s impossible to do without completely trampling the constitution. Perhaps that’s why courts have ruled that a tip to 911 by a concerned citizen, even an anonymous call, may be sufficient to provide police with reasonable suspicion to pull over a vehicle even if the police do not observe any suspicious driving behaviors.
Of course, most police officers will continue following cars they received tips about to independently verify that there is a reason to pull the vehicle over. Once the car has been stopped, a 911 tip is not enough to provide probable cause to search the vehicle or arrest the driver. The officer must observe some kind of other behavior or circumstances to warrant a search or arrest.
Questioning the Validity of a Call
While a 911 call may serve as sufficient reasonable suspicion, not just any 911 call will suffice. In order to provide police a valid reason to pull someone over, the call must either come from a credible source (generally a driver willing to put their name on the record will be enough) or a call from an anonymous caller must contain an “indicia of reliability.” If the call was anonymous, there should be some way to verify the call and the caller’s identity, including a record of the caller’s phone number and the ability to subpoena phone records and cell phone data to prove whether or not it was an accurate call. There have been documented cases of fraudulent 911 drunk driving calls designed to punish enemies, so courts do look at the identity of caller or context of the information given.
In fact, if you were stopped based on the word of an anonymous caller to 911, your Vista drunk driving defense attorney can request a copy of the 911 call and, if warranted, subpoena phone records and data to find out if the caller even actually witness your driving or not. If the officer did not independently observe questionable driving to provide him with reasonable suspicion and the cell phone records prove the 911 tipster didn’t actually observe your driving, then the stop itself may be considered invalid and all related evidence could be suppressed, resulting in the charges being dropped.
Similarly, even if the call seemed valid enough, but the officer who stopped you did not have probable cause to search your vehicle, ask you to perform a sobriety test or arrest you, a Vista DUI attorney may be able to have the case against you dropped.
If you have been charged with driving under the influence, call Vista drunk driving defense lawyer Peter M. Liss as soon as possible. Remember you only have 10 days to file a hearing with the DMV to fight your license suspension. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation at Mr. Liss’ office right across the street from the Vista courthouse and county jail.
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