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Can an Anonymous Tip be the Basis of a Virginia DUI Stop?

Posted by Sheridan England | Jan 01, 2022 | 0 Comments

An anonymous tip is just a tip and nothing else. A person can call the police and say whatever they want. But when it comes to a Virginia DUI stop, an anonymous tip may be enough to allow the police to stop you and investigate for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Here's what you need to know.

Can an Anonymous Tip Be Enough for a Lawful DUI Stop in Virginia?

Whether you made someone mad at a party or you swerved in front of another driver on the road, whatever it was, the person ends up calling the police and tipping them off. Before you know it, the sirens are wailing behind you.

Given that a traffic stop can be unlawful if there was no reasonable suspicion to pull you over, it makes you wonder how a tip can be enough reasonable suspicion. The tipster may simply be acting out of spite or may have no factual basis for the allegation. Under reasonable suspicion, the police must reasonably suspect you committed a crime or are committing a crime. How can a tip be a reasonable means to suspect a DUI when it could be based on a lie? Even then, seeing a person swerve doesn't mean anything – we all make mistakes driving.

But here we are: a tip can be the basis of a Virginia or D.C. DUI/DWI stop.

The U.S. Supreme Court concluded in Navarette v. California (2014) that a police officer can use an anonymous tip. In this case, the tipster called the police and stated he had been run off the road by a truck and proceeded to give the officer the license plate number. The police pulled over the truck and subsequently found marijuana. 

The defendants in this case, two brothers, tried to have the evidence suppressed, claiming the DUI stop lacked reasonable suspicion, and as such, their Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The court said it came down to reliability. The tip was believed to have been reliable; the U.S. Supreme Court quoted an older case, Alabama v. White, stating:

under appropriate circumstances, an anonymous tip can demonstrate "sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make [an] investigatory stop.”

In the Navarette case, the court found the tip reliable because:

  • the caller was an eyewitness to the dangerous driving;
  • the tip was made at the same general time the dangerous driving was occurring; and
  • the caller used 911 knowing the call could be traced to learn his or her identity.

In these types of case, the officer apparently does not need to witness the motorist driving dangerously or otherwise committing a traffic violation. All the officer needs is an anonymous tip the police deem as reliable and then the officer can pull the driver over for a DUI stop.

What Should You Do If Arrested after an Anonymous Tip Led the Police To You?

If you have been arrested for a DUI after an anonymous tip was made to the police, contact S.L. England. What tip is reliable is debatable. S.L. England will review the facts and circumstances and develop arguments in your favor. 

Police interference is more what the Navarette case is about. Justice Scalia recognized the same in his Navarette v. California dissent. Police can take this interference too far to get an arrest. S.L. England will make sure the police are held accountable and that any evidence flowing from an improper and unlawful DUI stop is suppressed.

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