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Quasi-anonymous tip about drunk driving justified stop, despite lack of bad driving

State v. Emily J. Mays, 2018AP571-CR, District 2, 11/7/2018 (one-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity (including briefs)

The circuit court found the stop of Mays’s car was unlawful because the officer’s testimony and the squad car video showed that, during the time the officer was following Mays, her driving didn’t provide sufficient reasonable suspicion to believe Mays was intoxicated. The court of appeals reverses, holding that the 911 call that led the officer to follow Mays provided reasonable suspicion for the stop.

The 911 call was from a woman who wanted to remain anonymous. She told the dispatcher that she got a call from a teenage girl who she employed; the girl said she was in a blue truck near Frank School with her mom and siblings and that her mom was intoxicated. (¶3). An officer found the truck, followed it 10 blocks, and stopped it, though he had observed little to support the conclusion the driver might be intoxicated. (¶4).

In a long, fact-specific assessment of the 911 call under the case law dealing with tipsters—primarily State v. Rutzkinski, 2001 WI 22, 241 Wis. 2d 729, 623 N.W.2d 516—the court holds the tip was sufficiently reliable to provide specific, articulable facts justifying the stop of Mays, despite the lack of bad driving. Because there were two “tipsters”—the teenage girl who purportedly told the 911 caller of her predicament, and the 911 caller who then informed the police—the reliability of the report of each must be assessed, State v. Romero, 2009 WI 32, ¶29, 317 Wis. 2d 12, 765 N.W.2d 756. Here are the court’s basic conclusions as to why the report of each tipster exhibited “reasonable indicia of reliability,” Rutzinski, 241 Wis. 2d 729, ¶18:

  • Each tipster had an individual basis of knowledge–the 911 caller to assess the statement of the girl who called her; the girl, whose statement (as relayed by the 911 caller) was based on her contemporaneous observations, and who, as a teenager, was old enough to be able to judge whether her mother was drunk. (¶¶15, 16).
  • There were reasonable bases on which to infer reliability of the report—namely, the girl called her employer, crying, at 2:50 a.m., odd thing to do if there’s no basis for the girl to be concerned; consistent with the tipster’s information, an officer found a blue truck near Frank School; the details the 911 caller provided gave the report “the ring of truth” rather than suggesting it was based on rumor or reputation; and while the 911 caller didn’t want her and girl’s identity revealed, she would likely know using the 911 system would make her identity discoverable. (¶¶18, 19, 20, 21).
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