Criminal Defense in Orange County

The Legality of Anonymous Tips in DUI Stops

There is still some ambiguity in the law as to whether or not an officer can legally pull over a driver based on an anonymous tip. Since the validity of the state's DUI case hinges on the legality of the traffic stop, the use of anonymous tips remains one of the most hotly contested issues in DUI law. The federal courts have yet to explicitly address this question, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has made some rulings about anonymous tips in other situations that can offer some insights that can apply to DUI cases. These rulings set three basic criteria for anonymous informants:

  • First, the tip must be specific enough that the correct person is arrested
  • Second, the tip must predict the suspect's future actions
  • Lastly, the officer must confirm the tipster's information first-hand

These criteria are designed to weed out hoax tips or tips so vague that they could refer to many individuals. And frequently, the deciding factor on the legality of an anonymous tip is how sure the officer can be that he is arresting the person described in the tip. Things that make a tip more specific to a single individual, such as damage to the car or the route the driver was taking, tend to carry greater legal weight. If you are trying to fight DUI charges in Orange County, your case may have ambiguous factors like this, even if an anonymous tip was not why you were pulled over.

Can an officer stop me after receiving an anonymous tip?

One of the defining issues in any DUI case is whether or not the traffic stop was legal, since the charges are only valid if the traffic stop was legal. This presents a tricky problem when preparing a criminal defense for a DUI stop based on an anonymous tip, because courts across the country have made disparate rulings regarding their legality. It can be very difficult to predict what the judge will decide. There are a number of notable cases where anonymous tip stops were found illegal. In one Texas case, a tipster reported a red pickup driving on the wrong side of the road.

The tipster did not give his identity or location. The court ruled that the tip alone could not justify a stop without additional evidence. Similarly, in one Georgia case, the courts ruled that an anonymous tip did not justify a stop because the tip did not contain specific details. Because the caller provided insufficient detail, the courts ruled that the officer could not have reasonably concluded that the tip was reliable nor that person that the officer pulled over was the same individual observed by the tipster. Furthermore, the tipster did not say why he thought the observed driver was guilty of a crime.

DUI cases are often not as clear cut as some attorneys and prosecutors think that they are. If you are trying to fight drunk driving charges, you need an experienced Orange County DUI lawyer who is familiar with these issues. Call The Law Office of Barney B. Gibbs today for a free consultation.