The Problem With Stops Based Upon "Concerned Citizen" Calls

posted by on Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Currenly Iowa law permits law enforcement officers to stop a vehicle based upon a call from an identified or even unidentified "concerned citizen" call alleging that the driver of a vehicle is possibly intoxicated or has committed some other criminal offense even if law enforcement observes nothing that corroborates the complaint. The classic example is a "concerned citizen" calling in a suspected drunk driver on the interestate because he is "all over the road."

While these stops can serve an important public interest, keeping us all safe from drunk drivers on the highway, permitting law enforcement to stop vehicles absent independent corroboration can also be subject to abuse as illustrated by a recent case handled by GRL law partner, Matt Lindholm. In Mr. Lindholm's case the police stopped a vehicle driven by a GRL law client based upon two telephone calls from two separate individuals alleging that the driver of the vehicle was threatening to fight one caller being loud and beligerent, and appearing to be intoxicated. Law enforcement stopped the vehicle based upon these calls without making any independent observations to corrobotrate that the driver was possibly drunk and subsequently ended up arresting the driver for OWI. As it turned out, the "concerned citizen" callers were individuals who were at the same party and were upset at Mr. Lindholm's client because the client had talked to one of the caller's girlfriends. The callers had made up these allegations simply in order to get Mr. Lindholm's client pulled over.

Fortunately for Mr. Lindholm's client, the callers' were identified and their lies were exposed. Had the law required some independent corroboration by the officers prior to stopping Mr. Lindholm's client, his right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution would not have been violated. Nevertheless, it makes one wonder how many individuals have been stopped because of a concerned citizen call that was false!