Imagine you are driving home or to work and a Houston police officer pulls you over. You didn't run a red light. You weren't speeding. You used your turn signal to take a left. In order for a police officer in Harris County, Texas, or anywhere in Texas for that matter, to pull you over, they need reasonable suspicion. You may be surprised to learn that someone left an anonymous tip with the police that you drank before you got behind the wheel.
Is an anonymous tip a justifiable reason to suspect that you have been driving while illegally intoxicated in Texas? Yes, according to Navarette v. California, a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision. But there are limits to this liberty and your Harris County DWI defense lawyer will -- or should -- challenge it.
When can Texas Police Use an Anonymous Tip as Reasonable Suspicion?
Thanks to the Fourth Amendment right to be protected against unlawful search and seizure, the police are limited from pulling a person over absent reasonable suspicion that the driver committed some crime. In order for a police officer to respond to an anonymous tip about someone allegedly driving drunk that tip must
- come from a credible source, or
- consist of reliable details, and
- consist of factual information.
Part of the details may include what the tipster saw the driver do on the road, the direction of the vehicle, and the vehicle's make, color, and license plate number.
How can a Houston DWI Defense Attorney Defend a DWI charge brought on by an Anonymous Tip?
If your DWI charge stems from a traffic stop resulting from an anonymous tip and not from a police officer witnessing you make some kind of traffic violation before stopping your vehicle, then the charge can be challenged -- and it can be challenged successfully. Your defense attorney will attempt to show that the anonymous tip was not credible, and if not credible, then a violation of your Fourth Amendment rights.
How will the attorney challenge it? He may do so by retrieving a copy of the transcript and asking a few specific questions to uncover the extent and nature of the anonymous call.
- Was the tip detailed? It is not enough to provide a statement like: "I saw a drunk driver." There need to be details providing why the tipster believed the driver was drunk, including possible who, what, where, when, and why.
- Did the anonymous caller identify him or herself? Credibility is weighted more for the person who is willing to identify themselves as opposed to a person who is not willing -- because the latter is more likely to be a false report.
- Was the tip enough? The tip must provide a police officer with enough suspicion to stop a driver without witnessing the driver commit any traffic violation or otherwise providing a reason to believe a crime was committed.
Police and highway patrol in Harris County and throughout the Houston metropolitan area are keen to pull people over on suspicion of DWI. They will use anonymous tips to pull you over, hoping that challenges to the the tip will not be made. But if you hire the right attorney -- Houston's best DWI defense attorney -- then you can expect that if an anonymous call was the impetus to your Texas DWI arrest, then it will be challenged.