Tuesday, November 22, 2011

DUI Law - Anonymous Call Insufficient Under Community Caretaking

In State v. Deccio, 136 Idaho 442, 34 P.3d 1125 the court had an opportunity to determine what affect an anonymous call would have on the validity of a seizure under the community caretaking doctrine. While the majority of courts have found an anonymous call of drunk driving, standing alone, to lack reasonable suspicion of a crime for purposes of stopping a vehicle, very few have addressed the community caretaking doctrine in this context.

In Deccio, a woman claiming to be the defendant's wife's best friend, called the police and claimed that the defendant was drunk, suicidal and driving. After attempts to locate Deccio at his home and on the roadways in Moscow proved unsuccessful, the Moscow police dispatcher notified the Latah County sheriff's office that Moscow police had received an anonymous call that Deccio was suicidal and intoxicated. A Latah County sheriff's officer spotted a vehicle matching the description of Deccio's vehicle driving southbound on Highway 95 toward Lewiston and began following the vehicle. The officer continued to follow the vehicle after it left Highway 95 and drove into the town of Genesee. The officer followed the vehicle for over a mile as it made several turns in Genesee but the officer did not observe any law violations or erratic driving. The officer eventually stopped the vehicle, believing that he needed to check the driver's welfare due to the report he received from the Moscow police dispatch. When the officer contacted the driver, Deccio, the officer smelled an odor of alcohol. Deccio was subsequently arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) after failing field sobriety tests. A bottle of vodka was found under the seat of Deccio's vehicle but no weapon was found.

The Idaho court stated that the same test used to deal with anonymous tips in the criminal context should be used in the community caretaking field:

"The present case involves the community caretaking function based on an anonymous tip. Although most cases involving anonymous tips center on the issue of reasonable, articulable suspicion rather than the community caretaking function, in each instance the reasonableness of a stop is analyzed under a totality of the circumstances. In analyzing the totality of the circumstances here, the threshold question is the weight, if any, the anonymous information concerning Deccio's condition should be given by the trier of fact. In Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 110 S.Ct. 2412, 110 L.Ed.2d 301 (1990), the United States Supreme Court held that a dispatcher's report may be based upon a variety of sources, including a completely anonymous tip. However, an anonymous tip standing alone is generally not enough to justify a stop because an anonymous tip alone seldom demonstrates the informant's basis of knowledge or veracity. State v. Larson, 135 Idaho 99, 101, 15 P.3d 334, 336 (Ct.App.2000). The information from an anonymous tip may provide justification for a stop when the information it contains bears sufficient indicia of reliability or when significant aspects of the tip are sufficiently corroborated by independent police observations. State v. Hankey, 134 Idaho 844, 847–48, 11 P.3d 40, 43–44 (2000); Larson, 135 Idaho at 101, 15 P.3d at 336. See also State v. Wilson, 136 Idaho 270, 32 P.3d 164 (Ct.App.2001)."

Holding that the stop here was illegal, the court stated:

"Here, the magistrate held that the anonymous tip, standing alone, did not bear sufficient indicia of reliability justifying the stop of Deccio's vehicle. We have been shown no error in the magistrate's determination. The female caller refused to identify herself or give her address. She merely stated that she was the best friend of Deccio's wife. The female did not call from home but from a phone at a local bar and indicated that she did not intend to stay there, thus avoiding the possibility of being identified or questioned. There was no indication that the female personally observed or had any first-hand knowledge of Deccio's suicidal or intoxicated condition. The female stated only that she had been speaking with Deccio and his wife and that he had been drinking all day. Moreover, the caller did not distinguish what information she obtained directly from Deccio and what hearsay information she obtained from Deccio's wife concerning Deccio. The magistrate found that, although the caller knew where Deccio lived and the type of vehicle he drove, such information was easily obtainable. The female's prediction that Deccio would not be home if officers were to check did not in itself make the tip more reliable.

"The magistrate also found that, aside from the officer's observations, there was no significant confirmation of the anonymous female's information. The only information that was corroborated was that a white Subaru was registered to Deccio, that Deccio lived on Concord Street in Moscow, and that Deccio was not at home at the time officers went there. We conclude, as did the magistrate, that the anonymous tip in this case did not bear sufficient indicia of reliability justifying **1129 *446 the stop of Deccio's vehicle on the belief that Deccio was in need of immediate assistance. Thus, we uphold the magistrate's determination that the anonymous tip was unreliable and that it did not provide a reasonable basis for the officer to stop Deccio's vehicle under the community caretaking function."

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