I am working on a case in which a private citizen reported to the police that his neighbor had been drinking, got in an argument and left in his car. The tipster reported that the neighbor was drunk and driving. He gave the likely direction of travel and type of car. Cops notified by dispatch saw a car that matched the potential offender’s vehicle and stopped it to investigate. Sure enough they smelled the odor of alcohol, recognized the glassy eyed stare of too many beers and concluded that the occupant should submit to field sobriety tests. End result – DUI. 

So is the BAC that was derived from the failed field sobriety tests and the officer’s observations admissible at trial? There was no warrant for arrest or to search. They only had an anonymous tip by a neighbor that the occupant had been drinking and was driving to town.

Survey says: probably.

The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. When you challenge the validity of a vehicle stop or other seizure the burden is on the State to prove the stop was justified. The stop is either reasonable or not depending on the totality of the circumstances. The police must have had a particularized and objective basis for suspecting that the person they stopped was engaged in a crime – like drunk driving. That suspicion may be supplied by an informant’s tip or a citizens’ report, and it all comes down to the content provided and the reliability of the informant.

In Idaho there is a case (State v. Etherington) that says an anonymous tip alone, without sufficient indicia of knowledge and veracity is insufficient to justify a stop. However, a later case (Wilson v IDOT) held that the opinion of the tipster that the driver was drunk, based on her observations, was enough to validate the stop.

So be careful out there. Do not drink and drive. Call a cab or a friend or use the feet attached to your legs. If you drive and are drunk and get reported and arrested you will spend a lot of time and money trying to get your driving privileges back.