DWI Stop After Driver Was “Run Off the Road” | US Supreme Court Ruling

Submitted by New Jersey DWI attorney, Jeffrey Hark.

Today the US. Supreme Court upheld a DWI stop based upon a tip that the driver had
“been run off the road”. The Court found sufficient reliability in the
detail and personal observation of the tip. See case attached.

(Slip Opinion) OCTOBER TERM, 2013


NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.





No. 12–9490. Argued January 21, 2014—Decided April 22, 2014

A California Highway Patrol officer stopped the pickup truck occupied by petitioners because it matched the description of a vehicle that a 911 caller had recently reported as having run her off the road. As he and a second officer approached the truck, they smelled marijuana. They searched the truck’s bed, found 30 pounds of marijuana, and ar­rested petitioners. Petitioners moved to suppress the evidence, argu­ing that the traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment. Their mo­tion was denied, and they pleaded guilty to transporting marijuana. The California Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the officer had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigative stop.

Held: The traffic stop complied with the Fourth Amendment because, under the totality of the circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion that the truck’s driver was intoxicated. Pp. 3–11.

(a) The Fourth Amendment permits brief investigative stops when an officer has “a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of . . . criminal activity.” United States v. Cortez, 449 U. S. 411, 417–418. Reasonable suspicion takes into ac­count “the totality of the circumstances,” id., at 417, and depends “upon both the content of information possessed by police and its de­gree of reliability,” Alabama v. White, 496 U. S. 325, 330. An anony­mous tip alone seldom demonstrates sufficient reliability, White, 496

U. S., at 329, but may do so under appropriate circumstances, id., at

327. Pp. 3–5.

(b) The 911 call in this case bore adequate indicia of reliability for the officer to credit the caller’s account. By reporting that she had been run off the road by a specific vehicle, the caller necessarily claimed an eyewitness basis of knowledge. The apparently short time between the reported incident and the 911 call suggests that the caller had little time to fabricate the report. And a reasonable officer could conclude that a false tipster would think twice before using the 911 system, which has several technological and regulatory features that safeguard against making false reports with immunity. Pp. 5–8.

(c) Not only was the tip here reliable, but it also created reasonable suspicion of drunk driving. Running another car off the road sug­gests the sort of impairment that characterizes drunk driving. While that conduct might be explained by another cause such as driver dis­traction, reasonable suspicion “need not rule out the possibility of in­nocent conduct.” United States v. Arvizu, 534 U. S. 266, 277. Finally, the officer’s failure to observe additional suspicious conduct during the short period that he followed the truck did not dispel the reason­able suspicion of drunk driving, and the officer was not required to surveil the truck for a longer period. Pp. 8–10.


THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,

C. J., and KENNEDY, BREYER, and ALITO, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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