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Calls to police about erratic driving gave reasonable suspicion for stop

State v. Angela J. Coker, 2017AP1555, District 2, 2/14/18 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

Coker was charged with OWI after police stopped her car because other drivers called police to report an erratic driver. The court of appeals rejects her claim that the information from the callers wasn’t sufficiently reliable because it was offered anonymously and wasn’t corroborated by the arresting officer’s observations.

The anonymity isn’t a problem, in part because the driver who finally directed the officer to Coker’s car offered to make a statement and so wouldn’t be anonymous:

¶9     …. Here, at the time he conducted the traffic stop, the trooper was aware that “multiple” individuals³ had called in about a “[w]hite Ford Flex van travelling southbound [on the interstate] from Milwaukee that was allegedly weaving all over the road.” He also was aware that a caller who continued to follow the van had expressed his/her willingness to give a written statement. Whether or not the caller later actually did provide such a statement is of no consequence in determining whether the trooper acted reasonably in relying upon the information this caller provided. The trooper would have reasonably believed he could rely upon the caller’s information in part because the caller indicated a willingness to make himself/herself known and accountable to law enforcement through a written statement. Furthermore, the caller indicated he/she was following the van, provided contemporaneous updates on the van’s location, and directed the trooper to the van. While the trooper did not testify that the caller indicated he/she was driving directly behind the van, with the information provided, the trooper nonetheless could reasonably have concluded that the caller knew his/her identity might well be discovered by law enforcement and thus that he/she “potentially could be arrested if the tip proved to be fabricated.” See [State v.] Rutzinski, [2001 WI 22,] 241 Wis. 2d 729, ¶32[, 623 N.W.2d 516]. This too added to the reliability of the information relayed to the trooper. See id. (recognizing that a tip from an unidentified informant who “exposed him- or herself to being identified” is generally reliable); see also State v. Williams, 2001 WI 21, ¶35, 241 Wis. 2d 631, 623 N.W.2d 106 (“Risking one’s identification intimates that, more likely than not, the informant is a genuinely concerned citizen as opposed to a fallacious prankster.”).

³ ….[The circuit court found] that not just one but “multiple” individuals called in to report concerns about Coker’s driving…. Coker erroneously briefs this appeal as if there was only one caller. Significantly, each caller’s tip adds to the reliability of the tip(s) of the other caller(s). See State v. Hillary, 2017 WI App 67, ¶18, 378 Wis. 2d 267, 903 N.W.2d 311.

The lack of corroboration isn’t fatal, either, given Navarette v. California, 134 S. Ct. 1683 (2014):

¶12     Coker contends it “weigh[s] against the veracity of the caller” that the trooper himself did not observe any erratic driving or traffic violations in the “just under” one minute he followed her before conducting the traffic stop. The Supreme Court addressed a similar consideration in Navarette. In that case, the Court stated that “the absence of additional suspicious conduct, after the vehicle was first spotted by an officer,” did not “dispel the reasonable suspicion of drunk driving” which came from the informant’s report that Navarette had previously operated his vehicle so as to “[ru]n the reporting party off the roadway.” Navarette, 134 S. Ct. at 1687, 1691. The Court added: “It is hardly surprising that the appearance of a marked police car … would inspire more careful driving for a time. Extended observation of an allegedly drunk driver might eventually dispel a reasonable suspicion of intoxication, but the 5-minute period in this case hardly sufficed in that regard.” Id. at 1691 (emphasis added). The Court’s determination that a five-minute period in which an observing officer noted no signs of impaired driving “hardly sufficed” to dispel reasonable suspicion makes it easy for us to conclude that the trooper’s preseizure observation period of “just under” one minute, while not reinforcing the veracity of the multiple callers who reported observing Coker “weaving all over the road,” also did not undermine the veracity of those reports.

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