The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard a decision that addressed how far police can go in enforcing laws aimed to reduce drunken driving. The decision will have ramifications concerning DUI arrests in North Carolina and across the country.

The case entitled Navarette v. California was a 5-4 decision where the majority ruled that police officers could stop a driver for suspected drunk driving based upon an anonymous call made to a 911 dispatcher. The majority decision was written by Justice Thomas. Justice Scalia, on the other hand, wrote a dissenting opinion where he referred to the court’s decision as “a freedom-destroying cocktail.”

When police arrested the individual in question there appeared to be no evidence that this person was driving erratically. The driver was nevertheless pulled over allegedly to find out whether he was intoxicated. Though he was apparently not intoxicated, he reportedly was transporting 30 pounds of marijuana. The arresting officers claim that they could smell the marijuana.

Police do require “reasonable suspicion” of criminal behavior before pulling them over in traffic stop cases. A tip is not in itself supposed to be defined as reasonable suspicion. The tip is supposed to be from a credible source. If the source is anonymous, it must have an “indicia of reliability.”

There was much that was unusual about this particular case and it will likely remain a controversial one. The caller may have provided his name to the 911 operator, but the wrong 911 operator was summoned by the prosecuting attorney. The case was then tried in the trial court as if an anonymous call had been made.

However much we may wish to think otherwise, DWI and DUI cases are complicated and deal with a large number of factors. Criminal defense attorneys are needed in these cases to make clear what options and rights individuals being charged with a DWI or DUI have.

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