Concerned Iowan’s Call Can’t Justify DWI Stop

     (CN) – A drunken driving conviction cannot stand since an anonymous tip did not give police reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled.
     After attending a charity dinner in Okoboji, Iowa, on June 16, 2010, Leon Kooima drove five friends in a Chevrolet Suburban around the area, stopping at a steakhouse at 10:30 p.m.
     Approximately one hour later, steakhouse patron Craig Post called 911 to report a car “full of drunks” heading toward Rock Valley. Post did not identify himself to the police dispatcher and did not indicate how he knew that the car’s occupants had been drinking.
     As Kooima approached a highway, Officer Travis Ryan pulled him over. Officer Kyle Munneke, who had followed Kooima for several blocks, joined the stop. Neither officer witnessed any traffic violations that would have independently been grounds for a stop.
     Kooima cooperated, failed several field sobriety tests, and was arrested. A breathalyzer test administered at the police station revealed a blood alcohol concentration of 0.088. Kooima was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
     At trial, Kooima argued that the traffic stop had violated his rights under the Fourth Amendment and Iowa constitution. A judge refused to suppress evidence obtained from the stop, however, and found Kooima guilty. The Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed.
     On Friday, however, the Iowa Supreme Court voted 4-3 to reverse the rulings.
     The majority opinion, penned by Justice David Wiggins, held that the anonymous tip was not sufficiently reliable to provide the reasonable suspicion necessary for a traffic stop.
     “Cases decided by us and other courts require a personal observation of erratic driving, other facts to substantiate the allegation the driver is intoxicated, or details not available to the general public as to the defendant’s future actions in order to spawn a reasonable inference the tipster had the necessary personal knowledge that a person was driving,” Wiggins wrote.
     “To hold otherwise would cause legitimate concern because such tips would let the police stop persons on anonymous tips that might have been called in for vindictive or harassment purposes or based solely on a hunch or rumor,” he added.
     Because Post had not personally witnessed Kooima drinking, and because the information provided could have been observed by any member of the general public, the officers needed more to conduct a traffic stop.
     Announcing the court’s rule, Wiggins wrote: “We hold a bare assertion by an anonymous tipster, without relaying to the police a personal observation of erratic driving, other facts to establish the driver is intoxicated, or details not available to the general public as to the defendant’s future actions does not have the requisite indicia of reliability to justify an investigatory stop. Such a tip does not meet the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”
     “Before concluding, we stress this court does not condone drunk driving. However, our oath requires us to uphold the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Additionally, we commend the dispatcher who took the 911 call,” Wiggins concluded.
     Chief Justice Mark Cady and Justice Thomas Waterman joined Justice Edward Mansfield’s dissent.
     Though they largely agreed with the majority’s facts and reasoning, the dissenting justices said Post’s tip was sufficiently reliable. Harassment is unlikely because Iowa holds 911 callers liable if they make a false report, they noted..
     “The entire thrust of the majority opinion is that the dispatcher did not do an adequate job, and should have kept the caller on the line longer and asked additional questions,” Mansfield wrote. “I disagree with imposing this burden on 911 operators and would uphold the stop.”

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