Every driver has the right to report an impaired driver he or she encounters on the road. Signs of an impaired driver can include swerving between lanes, running other drivers off the road, and failing to stop at red lights or stop signs. An anonymous tip to the police could save lives by preventing a drunk driver from causing harm. However, an anonymous tip may not always serve as reasonable suspicion for a law enforcement official to make a driving while impaired (DWI) stop.
Anonymous Tips and NC DWI Arrests
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling in Prado Navarette v. California that changed the way the courts handle evidence of a DWI based on an anonymous tip. Prior to this case, courts in North Carolina were widely skeptical of anonymous tips serving as reasonable suspicion for a stop and DWI arrest. Anonymous tips typically did not qualify for reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop, due to potential information inaccuracy or false tips. However, in Navarette v. California, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the prosecution – despite the fact that law enforcement stopped the accused based on an anonymous tip.
Since the ruling of Navarette v. California, the North Carolina court system hasn’t been as quick to throw out a DWI case solely because an anonymous tip doesn’t qualify as reasonable suspicion. In the Supreme Court case, the court’s majority opinion came from the belief that in that particular circumstance, the anonymous tip provided reasonable suspicion. This affirmation came from reasons including:
- The anonymous caller claimed eyewitness knowledge of the dangerous driving. For example, if the driver ran them off the road.
- The call occurred at the same time as the dangerous driving, which made the report unlikely to be fabricated (the call was deemed “especially reliable”).
- The caller went through the 911 system, which has ways of tracing and identifying callers. Thus, the courts decided that the report was highly unlikely to be false.
Based on these three reasons, the Supreme Court ruled that the tip was likely accurate and that it therefore did provide reasonable suspicion for the stop and arrest of the driver. The defense argued that that the tip was not necessarily reliable, that there were many other possible explanations for the driver’s behavior other than impairment, and that the officers followed the vehicle for five minutes without noticing signs of impairment before making the stop. The Navarette v. California ruling breaks from the customary approach courts take in such situations and opens the floor for charging more drivers with DWI based on anonymous tips.
Did an Anonymous Tip Lead to Your DWI Charge?
If the prosecution is using an anonymous tip against you as the basis for your vehicle stop and proceeding with a DWI investigation in Raleigh, NC, you may be able to argue the charges. With a team of Raleigh DWI lawyers on your side, you can try to navigate this trick area of law in your best interests. The outcome of these cases will vary from case to case, but hiring skilled and experienced local attorneys can improve your chances of success.
At the Scharff Law Firm, attorneys Jesse and Reba Scharff have years of experience in North Carolina case law and statutes. They are both aware of the recent changes to the protocol for DWI arrests based on anonymous tips and can help you prepare a defense if applicable. Competent lawyers can investigate the nature of the anonymous tip and potentially poke holes in the prosecution’s testimony – or have the courts rule that the traffic stop and arrest didn’t stem from probable cause at all. Call (919) 457-1954 or submit our online contact form for a free consultation with Scharff Law Firm regarding your anonymous DWI tip.