911 Tip of Drunk Driver Is Not Enough Under the 4th Amendment

posted by on Tuesday, July 02, 2013

In State v. Kooima, the Iowa Supreme Court decided in a narrow 4-3 decision, the bare allegation that someone is drunk and getting into a vehicle by an anonymous tipster to 911 was insufficient to support the stop of a vehicle under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.  In an interesting change of pace, the Iowa Supreme Court decided this case under the United States Constitution as opposed to the Iowa Constitution leaving the door open for a possible appeal to the United States Supreme Court.  The decision is a welcome relief to defense attorneys who have been arguing for years that the current state of the law was to lax and allowed for abuse by individuals with a vindictive purpose.

The Court's opinion hinged upon the fact that the caller's allegation provided only that the driver was drunk and getting in the car to leave.  The caller failed to relay any specific information to dispatch as to why he believed the driver to be drunk including any specific instances of bad driving or other observations.  In distinguishing a plethora of both prior State and Federal precedent on this issue, the Court concluded that the facts in this particular case lacked sufficient indicia of reliability to support the stop of the Defendant's vehicle.  Seemingly, in order for a 911 tip by an anonymous caller to meet constitutional muster for police to stop an alleged drunk driver, the caller must relay "personal observations of erratic driving, other facts to establish the driver in intoxicated, or details not available to the general public as to the [driver's] future actions."

Since this case was decided under the Federal Constitution, the Court has left the door open for litigation for situations where the caller is not anonymous but named and only provides a bare assertion of intoxication or situations where an anonymous caller provides information that is more than a bare assertion.  Regardless, persons who have been stopped and arrested for drunk driving due to a 911 call need to hire competent counsel who can review the information provided by the caller to ensure that it comports with what the Supreme Court of Iowa now requires.

  1. drunk driving
  2. fourth amendment
  3. iowa constitution