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When does an Anonymous 911 Call justify an officer making a stop for OUI in Massachusetts

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizure. Part of this requires a police officer to have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in order to conduct a vehicle stop or any other search of a suspect. As a Massachusetts OUI attorney, this often becomes an important issue because if a police officer does not have this reasonable suspicion and conducts a vehicle stop or search, all evidence collected from this illegal search will have to be thrown out and will usually end in a dismissal of the case. Without a reasonable suspicion, a stop of a vehicle or search of a person will be considered illegal and unconstitutional.

Determining whether an officer’s stop was conducted under reasonable suspicion is often a topic that is difficult to determine. The Iowa Supreme Court recently took on the issue of whether an anonymous tip about a potential drunk driver can create this reasonable suspicion in Iowa v. Kooima. This case involved the defendant who was at a steakhouse for over an hour with several other gentlemen after a day of golf. Another patron recognized the men as prominent businessmen from the area. He proceeded to call 9-1-1 and describe the car and reported the license plate number. The anonymous caller told the operator that all the men were drunk and were going to leave but never gave any information about what they drank or how he knew the men were intoxicated. Despite the lack of details and not seeing the men drive, the dispatcher told officers in the area to be on the lookout for the car.

The officers followed the defendant and he never made any traffic violations or mechanical violations. Based solely on the tip, the police conducted a stop, gave the defendant a breathalyzer and field sobriety test and arrested the defendant on drunk driving. The defendant claimed the stop was not authorized but was convicted of drunk driving. The Supreme Court disagreed and ruled the stop was not authorized.

In this decision, the court cited the United States Constitution, specifically the fourth amendment was violated. The court stated that an anonymous tip can create reasonable suspicion, but not in this case. The main focus of the court was whether the tip involved intimate knowledge of the situation and whether the tip is knowledge common to the public. The court cited Alabama v. White where an anonymous tip came in and described a woman who would have drugs. The tip described her exact location, what she was driving, where she was going and what she had. This was information that could only be known by somebody who was intimate to the situation.

In contrast, the anonymous tip in Iowa v. Kooima did not give any intimate details. It simply described information that was easily viewable to the general public. Many states have also upheld anonymous tips valid to conduct a stop when erratic driving is reported. Again, that was lacking here as the defendant was never seen driving. The tip gave no intimate knowledge meaning knowledge that is available to someone close to the situation and can give reliable information. Because of this, the stop was illegal.

Any time of you stopped based on anonymous 911 call, your case would raise an issue of whether your rights under the Fourth Amendment were violated and should be pursued at a motion hearing in court.

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