Police Stop of Drunk Driver based on a Telephone Tip.
Two recent Court cases provide the police with help in spotting drunk drivers. The New Jersey Supreme Court in the case of State vs. Golotta had to decide the constitutionality of the police stop of a vehicle and the subsequent arrest of the driver for drunk driving based upon an anonymous tip to 911 claiming that the vehicle was being driven erratically. The police received information from a "citizen informant" using a cell phone to contact 911 advising that a blue pick up truck with a certain license plate number was traveling erratically on a public roadway. In response, the police traveled to the location in question and found a vehicle stopped at a traffic light matching the information supplied by the citizen informant. The police did not personally observe any erratic movements of the vehicle. Nevertheless, the police stopped the vehicle and upon questioning the driver determined that the driver was intoxicated and arrested him for drunk driving. The question before the Court was whether the police had established an "articulable and reasonable suspicion" that the driver had committed a motor vehicle offense without personally observing any violation. The Court held that the police stop was proper. The information obtained from an anonymous 911 caller must convey an unmistakable sense that the caller has witnessed an ongoing offense and that the result of that offense may involve the risk of immediate death or serious injury. The 911 call must be close in time to the observations of the caller and must provide a sufficient quantity of information and adequate description of the vehicle including its location, its bearing or similar details so that an officer may be certain that the vehicle stopped is the same one identified by the caller.
Recently, the NJ Supreme Court in the case of State vs. Amelio held that the police acted properly when stopping a motor vehicle based upon a 911 report by the driverís 17 year old daughter stating that her father was drunk, entered his car and was driving. In this case, the police were called to the Defendantís home to investigate a domestic disturbance between the Defendant and his daughter. Before the police arrived, the daughter called back claiming that her father was drunk and had left home driving his car. The daughter provided the license plate number, a description of the vehicle and the general direction it was traveling. However, the daughter did not see any erratic driving. As the police arrived at the Defendantís home they observed the Defendant driving his car but did not see any erratic driving. Nevertheless, the police stopped the car on the side of the road. As of a result of the stop, the Defendant was determined to be driving while intoxicated, subsequently refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test. On Appeal, the Defendant raised various defenses, including the legality of the stop by the police based upon an allegation by a 911 caller that a person was drunk and got into his car. The Court held that the information supplied by the daughter and that the fact that she identified herself to the 911 dispatcher (exposing herself to criminal prosecution if the report were knowingly false) created a "reasonable and articulable" suspicion of an offense sufficient to provide a constitutional basis for the police to stop the vehicle.
When taken together, both cases demonstrate increasing police power in combating drunk driving.
Ignition Interlock Device
Installation of an ignition interlock device may become a mandatory penalty for those convicted of driving while intoxicated under a new Bill working its way through the Legislature known as "Ricciís Law". An ignition interlock is essentially a breathalyzer machine which requires a driver to blow into the device before being able to start the vehicle. If the driver's blood alcohol level exceeds 0.05%, the vehicle will not start. Under present law the installation of an ignition interlock device is not required for a first offense of drunk driving. A person convicted of a second drunk driving offense will either have an ignition lock device installed or will have their vehicle registration revoked for two years. A third or subsequent drunk driving offense requires the mandatory installation of the device. The proposal, if enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor, would require the interlock device as a mandatory penalty for all DWI offenders, including first time DWI offenders, whose blood alcohol level exceeds 0.15%.
Ricciís Law is named after Richard "Ricci" Branca who was struck and killed by a drunk driver while riding his bike. The drunk driver was a repeat offender and at the time of the accident had a blood alcohol of 0.339 which is more than 4 times the legal limit in New Jersey.
Representing clients throughout New Jersey, including Newark, Belleville, Nutley, Bloomfield, Montclair, The Orange’s, Jersey City, Hoboken, Kearny, Harrison, North Arlington, Lyndhurst, Rutherford, Elizabeth, Union, Hillside, Hackensack, Clifton, Paterson, Woodbridge, Edison, Toms River, Essex County, Bergen County, Hudson County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Somerset County, and Union County.