Clients often find themselves in the frustrating position of being given a DUI based on a tip from an anonymous informant. Clients often ask us at the Milwaukee law firm of Vanden Heuvel & Dineen if such a stop is valid. That fact of the matter is, there is no simple answer as whether anonymous tips are a valid and lawful reason for a DUI stop.
Because the United States Supreme Court has never directly addressed this question, the lawfulness of DUI stops based on anonymous tips has been left to the state courts to decide on a state-by-state basis. However, the Supreme Court has addressed the lawfulness of anonymous tips in other cases, and its reasoning may be applicable to your DUI.
One criterion the Supreme Court uses to evaluate the validity arrests based on anonymous tips is detail and accuracy of the information in the tip.
In one notable Florida case, the Supreme Court upheld the drug-arrest made on an anonymous tip because the tip was extremely accurate and detailed. The tipster told police what car the drug courier would be driving, what route she would be taking, and at which motel she was staying. The Court ruled that this tip was valid basis for an arrest because it was so detailed and accurate that the police could reasonably assume that the informant knew what he was talking about.
However, the Court decided in a different case, also in Florida, that a weapon possession arrest was invalid, because the anonymous tip was too vague. The tipster claimed that a young black male wearing a plaid shirt was carrying a gun. The court ruled that since police knew nothing about the informant, the tip could have been a lie, or it could have been referring to any number of people.
Furthermore, notice that in the first case, the tipster attempted to predict the suspect’s future actions in committing a crime, and the second tip was just a passing observation of what may or may not be a crime. Because of this prediction, the police was able to independently observe the crime and know exactly who the tipster is referring to. This can be a huge deciding factor in determining whether an anonymous tip is a reasonable basis for arrest.
If you or a loved one has been arrested for a DUI, get the legal help you need from the dedicated and experienced Milwaukee DUI lawyers at the law firm of Vanden Heuvel & Dineen. For a free initial consultation, fill out the form on this page.