New Jersey DWI Car Stop Based on a “Tip Call”

Most New Jersey DWI automobile stops occur when a police officer has personally viewed a traffic violation. The officer then reports the violation in his or her report, and this is then the subject of scrutiny as to whether the officer had the requisite “reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity” required to make a stop based on constitutional law, i.e. the Fourth Amendment.

More and more, since almost everyone has a cell phone with them on the road, stops are often being made based on citizen tips — other drivers on the road who view erratic driving and dial 911 or the local police department. These are particularly interesting cases that add an additional layer to what your qualified New Jersey DWI lawyer should be doing in your case.

The law on anonymous tips, is that the tip, standing alone, is rarely sufficient to establish a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity. The analysis has changed, however, with 911 calls. The New Jersey Supreme Court stated that a 911 caller “place[s] his anonymity at risk by virtue of using the 9-1-1 system” because the records required to be made of such calls “provide the police with an ability to trace the identity of the caller in a manner that enhances his reliability.” State v. Golotta, 178 N.J. 205, 225-26 (2003). The Court said that such a call should not be ” ‘viewed with the same degree of suspicion that applies to a tip by a confidential informant.’
The 911 tip call becomes reliable, according to the Court, as long as the caller provides a sufficient quantity of information, such as an adequate description of the vehicle, its location and bearing, or ‘similar innocent details, so that the officer, and the court, may be certain that the vehicle stopped is the same as the one identified by the caller.’ ” Id. at 222.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the caller’s information is correct. That is what can be challenged when your case makes it to court. Your lawyer should demand a copy of the “tip call” from the prosecutor and police records agency. Listen to what was said in the call to determine if there was enough information to make the stop. If your case is going to trial, demand that the State call that “independent” witness to testify. You have a constitutional right to confront that witness.

If the officer independently views traffic violations that would establish reasonable suspicion to stop your car, then the tip call may not matter.

There are so many facets of a New Jersey DWI case that require the utmost scrutiny by a qualified NJ DWI defense attorney. You should never assume that your case has no hope, or that you should just plead guilty. You must make sure that you hire a NJ DWI lawyer who will fight for you, rather than someone who will hold your hand and help you plead guilty. Your lawyer should investigate all aspects of your case to make sure that there is no stone unturned in your defense.

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