Upon being pulled over for a traffic stop, the first question often running through a motorist’s mind is, “What did I do wrong?” In Michigan, police officers must have a reasonable suspicion that the driver has violated the law in order to stop them. Always on the prowl for drunk drivers, the attending officer can issue citations for DUI charges should signs of intoxication be visibly evident. Unfortunately however, experienced Michigan DUI attorneys often see instances where police lack just cause to stop a driver, but still cite them for criminal charges anyways. A perfect example is seen in a recent Michigan case, where a man was stopped by police on an anonymous tip and eventually arrested for drunk driving.
Being a popular holiday involving alcohol, police officers across Michigan always step up enforcements on and around St. Patrick’s Day. In this case, a police officer was observing traffic from a parking lot when he made eye contact with a woman driver who was trying to give him a message—she mouthed the words “almost hit me,” and pointed directly to the defendant’s vehicle in front of her. Without observing the defendant doing anything illegal, the police officer pulled over the defendant for a traffic stop and began to question him. Eventually, the attending officer determined that the motorist was driving while intoxicated and accused him of Michigan DUI charges.
The Defendant argued that the drunk driving charge should be dismissed because the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion to pull him over. In Michigan, a police officer must reasonably suspect that a person has committed or is committing a crime before they can stop that person on the road. Otherwise, any evidence that the police officer finds during the stop may well be inadmissible in court—in this case, it would have been the fact that the defendant was intoxicated. Making this information inadmissible would negate the prosecutor’s case that the defendant was driving drunk. This rule in Michigan is based on important Constitutional rights protecting people from unreasonable search and seizures. This is also called a Fourth Amendment Right.
The motorist’s DWI defense lawyer argued in court that because the law enforcement official had not personally seen the defendant do anything illegal, the police officer could not have reasonable suspicion that a crime was being committed. However, the prosecutor countered by saying that the anonymous tip given by the female driver about how the defendant “almost hit [her]” was enough to give the officer reasonable suspicion that the defendant had committed or was committing traffic violations such as: reckless driving, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, or operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI), DUI, OUID, or drunk driving.
The legal question involved in this Michigan case is whether an anonymous tip given by another person to a police officer qualifies as reasonable suspicion to pull someone over. After reviewing some older state and federal cases, The Michigan Court of Appeals determined that, yes, an anonymous tip does give a police officer reasonable suspicion and allows the officer to pull a suspect over, provided that (1) the information given by the informant is enough to sufficiently identify the vehicle and support an inference of a traffic violation, and (2) the information is adequately reliable based on the police officer’s verification of the tip’s “innocent details.” Innocent details are very basic, such as the fact that the anonymous tipster knows they could be punished for lying to a police officer. The court reasoned that the reliability of an anonymous tip involving a traffic offense can be less than in non-traffic situations. This is because, in order to give the police officer time to verify enough of the anonymous tip, there is the potential that the offense-committing driver could seriously harm someone. In the interest of public safety, the police officer is not required to wait for this to happen before they can pull over a driver.
In this case, the female driver’s pointing directly to the defendant’s vehicle was enough to sufficiently identify the vehicle, and the fact that her tip was based on first-hand, immediate information was enough for the officer to determine that the tip was adequately reliable. Also, the fact that it was St. Patrick’s Day—a time when the roads are filled with people who are driving drunk—further gave the police officer reasonable suspicion that the defendant was committing a traffic violation. Because the police officer did have reasonable suspicion that the defendant had committed or was committing a traffic offense, the evidence of the defendant’s intoxication is admissible in court, and hence the defendant’s case should not be dismissed.
What does this mean for those accused of DWI charges?
If charged with a crime based on an investigation that started from an anonymous tip, one will have to fight much harder to win the case. The defendant needs an experienced and dedicated DWI defense attorney who keeps up-to-date with Michigan cases such as the one detailed above. Not every attorney is skilled at defending violations of your Constitutional rights, such as your right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. That is why it is so important to find the best DUI lawyer, who has experience representing and defending clients’ rights. Doing so immediately is the first step to ensuring that an unreasonable search does not result in permanent, life-changing consequences.