Rhode Island DUI Arrest Based On Report Of inconsistent Driving
With use of cellular phones, it has become increasingly shared to see Rhode Island DUI stops and breathalyzer refusal situations based on 911 calls.
Under the United States Constitution, a motor means stop already if only for a fleeting time period is a seizure that requires an officer to demonstrate reasonable suspicion to justify the stop.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court in State v. Bjerke, 697 A.2d 1069 (R.I. 1997) held that an anonymous tip without sufficient detail or corroboration will not permit already a fleeting investigatory stop. Since Bjerke, other state courts and the United States Supreme Court has addressed the issue of the degree of corroboration necessary to permit an investigatory stop under the Fourth Amendment. In Florida v. J.L., 529 U.S. 266 (2000), the United States Supreme Court addressed a case involving a report of an anonymous tip that a young black male was standing at a bus stop wearing a plaid shirt and carrying a gun. A police officer went to the bus stop and saw three black males, one wearing a plaid shirt, but did not see a gun or anything uncommon. The court held that the anonymous tip alone was insufficient to justify the seizure because the tip did not contain sufficient indicia of reliability. In finding the tip unreliable, the United States Supreme Court noted that the tip merely described freely observable facts that did not show that the informant had knowledge of hid criminal activity.
Applying J.L. to a Rhode Island DUI stop, the Rhode Island courts would likely consider:
1. Is the identity of the caller known or traceable by phone records.
2. Did the caller describe the precise location of the means.
3. Did the officer verify the description of the means provided by the caller.
4. Was the stop made in close closeness to the report by the caller.
In Bloomingdale v. State, the Delaware Supreme Court found an anonymous report of an impaired driver sufficiently reliable when police dispatch received a report of a driver all over the road. The caller in Bloomingdale identified the location of the motorist, the make, form and color of the means in addition as the race of the driver and travel route. Though the caller did not provide any contact information, the court found the call sufficiently reliable to justify the motor means stop. The Court underscored that someone reporting an anonymous tip of a motorist is less likely to do so for the purpose of harassment because of the short period of time that the caller would have to make the report to the police. Further, the court stressed that the mobility of motor vehicles increases reliability because it would be difficult for a tipster to place a moving means in a particular location at a particular time if the caller did not observe the means.
Like the Bloomingdale court, the Connecticut Appellate Court, in State v. Torelli, 931 A.2d 337 (Conn. App. 2007), upheld a DUI stop based on an anonymous tip distinguishing between situations where the informant is completely unknown as opposed to slightly known. There, the court held a lesser degree of corroboration is required if the informant is slightly known as in that case the caller remained on the phone line with dispatch and told dispatch his location, which permitted himself to be identified already though caller’s identification was never discovered.
The case of State v. Boyea, 765 A.2d 863 (Vt. 2000), adds an additional factor of the gravity of harm to justify DUI stops based on anonymous tips. There, the court held that the reasonableness of the stop may be assessed in light of the gravity of the harm that a drunk driver can cause to the public.
If faced with a Rhode Island DUI or breathalyzer refusal charge based on an anonymous tip, you may be able to have the evidence gathered from the stop suppressed and the case dismissed if you can demonstrate that the stop of the means was in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Rhode Island courts would likely apply the factors discussed in the above situations to determine whether the motor means stop complied with Fourth Amendment Constitutional protections.