Monday, July 04, 2011

DWI Appeal of the Day (DAD) - Anonymous Tip Insufficient for Stop of Driver

In Martinez v. State of Texas --- S.W.3d ----, 2011 WL 2555712 (Tex.Crim.App.) the state charged appellant with driving while intoxicated (DWI) and possession of marijuana. The facts were reported as follows:

"At 10:55 p.m., the police dispatcher radioed that an anonymous caller reported that a male driving a blue Ford pickup truck stopped at the intersection of 17th and Main Streets, put two bicycles into the back of the truck, and drove away westbound. Hurley was on patrol in the general area and spotted a green Ford F–250 truck that “looked like it was blue” FN2 approximately three quarters of a mile away from the site of the reported incident. He began following the truck and called dispatch to confirm the vehicle description. He trailed the truck for four blocks without observing any traffic violations, then stopped the vehicle. As he walked to driver's side of the truck, Officer Hurley noticed, in the truck bed, two bicycles that were not visible to him until he approached the truck. While speaking with appellant, the truck's driver, Hurley detected a strong odor of alcohol and noticed that appellant had bloodshot, glassy eyes."
The trial court denied the motion to suppress. On appeal, the appellate court stated that:

"At a suppression hearing involving an investigatory stop, the state need not establish that a crime occurred prior to the stop, but it must elicit testimony showing sufficient facts to prove that reasonable suspicion existed that a particular person has engaged in, or soon will be engaging in, criminal activity."
When it comes to anonymous tips, this court stated the law applicable as follows:

"When an officer's suspicion of criminal activity arises from an anonymous caller rather than from the officer's own observations, the tip seldom provides reasonable suspicion for an investigatory stop.FN12 The tip lacks “sufficient indicia of reliability,” such as a suitable level of police corroboration,FN13 to establish the “requisite quantum of suspicion.” FN14 An inverse relationship exists between the reliability of the informant and the amount of corroborated information required to justify the police intrusion; the less reliable the tip, the more information is needed .FN15 However, when the informant provides self-identifying information that makes himself accountable for the intervention, the degree of reliability significantly improves.FN16

The court found the details of the call insufficient to establish both the reasonable suspicion that a crime had occurred, and that the driver was the one involved in the complained-of activity:

"As the record indicates, there was neither a complainant nor a report of stolen bicycles. The anonymous caller did not report contextual factors that reasonably connected the unusual activity to a theft, such as witnessing the suspect use bolt cutters to cut a bike lock or stating that the bikes were taken from someone's garage. More than the officer's opinion that an activity is “suspicious” was needed to relate the activity to a criminal act.FN26

"Finally, Officer Hurley had very little information, corroborated or otherwise, to connect appellant to the unusual activity other than the fact that appellant was driving a Ford pickup truck, similar in color to the described truck, close to the time that the unusual activity occurred, and within three quarters of a mile west of the reported incident.FN27 Even though Officer Hurley was informed that the alleged suspect was male, he testified that he would have pulled over a Ford pickup truck driven by a woman. Before he approached the truck after the stop, Officer Hurley did not see any bicycles in the bed of appellant's truck, nor did he have any other reason to stop the truck. The specific, articulable, corroborated facts known by the officer at the time of the stop were minimal."
Concluding, the court held:

"Based on our review of the totality of the circumstances, including the unknown reliability of the anonymous caller and the lack of specific, articulable facts suggesting that criminal activity was afoot, we find that Officer Hurley's investigatory detention of appellant was not supported by reasonable suspicion. The court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's judgments. We reverse the judgments of the court of appeals and remand the causes to that court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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