On any given Friday or Saturday night, you may see signs on the side of the highway advising drivers to report anyone they suspect of drunk driving to 911. But can you really be pulled over and arrested for drunk driving just because someone reported it? Police about you? ? And if so, are there other situations in which calling 911 could provide police officers with enough reasonable suspicion to stop or search someone? Like many legal issues, the answers are complex.
What is reasonable doubt?
Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that applies when a police officer has a factual basis to believe that a crime may have occurred, is currently occurring, or will occur in the near future. While it must be based on more than just a hunch or simple suspicion, reasonable suspicion is a lower standard than probable cause. As a result, reasonable suspicion is only sufficient to provide grounds for an officer to detain or search someone, but not to search or arrest someone.
A traffic stop requires reasonable suspicion
Courts must balance the Fourth Amendment rights of the individual suspect with the best interests of society as a whole. To do this, courts have ruled that a concerned citizen’s notification of 911 may be sufficient to provide police with reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred. However, certain conditions must be met if the call is anonymous, and the police do not personally notice any signs of criminal activity.
In most situations, officers prefer to secure their own basis for reasonable suspicion, and will typically track a suspect for a period of time to look for indicators of criminal activity, but they are not legally obligated to do so before stopping someone.
On the other hand, once officers stop someone, they must find enough evidence to justify searching the person, arresting them, or allowing them to be released in a timely manner.
Does reasonable suspicion allow officers to search someone?
Yes. Information that provides police officers with reasonable suspicion can justify them searching the outside of a suspect’s clothing for weapons or contraband. However, because the standard for searching someone is not as high as being searched, the search cannot include:
- Access one’s pockets or other clothing
- Groping suspect
- Manipulating objects inside clothes
- – Seizing or searching the suspect’s phone
If an officer believes they sense a weapon or prohibited substance through someone’s clothing, they can remove that from the suspect’s clothing.
Questioning the authenticity of the call
During a 911 call maybe Reasonable suspicion is sufficient, and just any 911 call will not suffice. To justify a police officer’s action, the call must either come from a reliable source (generally, an individual willing to go on the record will suffice) or the call from an anonymous caller must contain “indications of reliability.” “.
The standards determining when anonymous tips are sufficient to prove reasonable suspicion were developed in the 2014 U.S. Supreme Court case Navarrete v. California. The justices ruled in their ruling that if a 911 call is anonymous, there must be some way to verify the call and the caller’s identity to protect individuals from being targeted with fraudulent accusations. Under this provision, the invitation must be:
- Made by an eyewitness to the crime with sufficient detail to indicate the credibility of what they saw
- It occurs during or immediately after the crime, so the witness will not have time to fabricate the story
- It is recorded so it can be reviewed again later
- Made from a traceable number that can be called up later to evaluate its accuracy
How a defense attorney can help
If you are arrested on the word of an anonymous 911 caller, your defense attorney can request a transcript of the 911 call and, if necessary, subpoena phone records and data to see if the call meets the standards developed under the Navarette Test. If the officer does not independently observe questionable behavior or actions to substantiate his reasonable suspicion and cell phone records prove that the 911 dispatcher did not meet the standards set by the Supreme Court, the stop itself may be deemed invalid. When this happens, all relevant evidence can be hidden, resulting in charges against you being dropped.
Likewise, even if the call appears valid enough, your attorney may be able to dismiss the case against you if he can prove that the officer who stopped you did not have probable cause to do the following:
- Search you, your home, or your car
- I ask you to take a sobriety test
- Arrest you
If you have been accused of a crime and believe an anonymous tip may have led to your arrest, contact Peter M. Liss as soon as possible. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation at Mr. Lees’ defense office across the street from the Vista Courthouse and County Jail.