Ordinarily, on a criminal law blog, the words “is different” would usually be preceded by the word “death” and an accompanying rant about the futility of the death penalty and the special standards to be applied in deciding whether a State should be in the killing business (I do not disappoint: see next post). However, today we learn that our esteemed Chief Justice uses another “d” word to finish that sentence: drunk driving.
In an odd little dissent from the denial of cert in Virginia v. Harris, Chief Justice Roberts essentially argues that anytime police receive an anonymous tip that someone is driving drunk and they find that person, they should be able to pull them over and conduct an investigatory stop.
The story in Harris essentially was that some woman called the cops refusing to give her name, but said that Harris was driving drunk in a green Altima and wearing a striped shirt. The police found a green Altima in the general vicinity of where she said it would be, and the license plate was “close enough” to the partial description she provided. Importantly, however, Harris did not commit any traffic violations (damn those pesky drunk drivers not providing any bases for a pretextual stop!), so when he pulled over to the side of the road, the cop followed suit and initiated a traffic stop. It is not clear why he pulled over (probably because he was drunk and saw a cop following him) or what the cop initiated a stop for (probably because he was a cop and he could). Anyway, Harris reeked and was arrested.
An anonymous tip has a relatively low degree of reliability, requiring more information to sufficiently corroborate the information contained in the tip. See J.L., 529 U.S. at 270. “Unlike a tip from a known informant whose reputation can be assessed and who can be held responsible if her allegations turn out to be fabricated, ‘an anonymous tip alone seldom demonstrates the informant’s basis of knowledge or veracity.’ ” J.L., 529 U.S. at 270 (quoting Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. at 329) (citation omitted).
The indicia of reliability of an anonymous tip may be bolstered when the tipster provides predictive information, which the police can use to test the tipster’s basis of knowledge and credibility. However, for such predictive information to bolster the tipster’s basis of knowledge or credibility, the information must relate to the alleged criminal activity. Providing information observable or available to anyone is not predictive information and can only “help the police correctly identify the person whom the tipster [meant] to accuse.” J.L., 529 U.S. at 272. An anonymous call that provides no predictive information leaves the police without a means to test the tipster’s knowledge or credibility. J.L., 529 U.S. at 271.
And it makes perfect sense. if this were not the case, I could call the police and say I saw Scott walking down the street, carrying an AR-15 and a suitcase full of meth and he told me he was going to go rob some prosecutors. That’d be enough for them to arrest him. Now, I know he’s not actually doing any of those things, but he’d be harassed a bit. Chief Justice Roberts’ response to this, though, is that “drunk driving is different”. Okay, he didn’t actually use that pithy phrase, but that’s essentially what he thinks:
The imminence of the danger posed by drunk drivers exceeds that at issue in other types of cases. In a case like J. L., the police can often observe the subject of a tip and step in before actual harm occurs; with drunk driving, such a wait-and-see approach may prove fatal. Drunk driving is always dangerous, as it is occurring. This Court has in fact recognized that the dangers posed by drunk drivers are unique, frequently upholding anti-drunk-driving policies that might be constitutionally problematic in other, less exigent circumstances.
Riiight. So a cop who is following a driver based on an anonymous tip couldn’t pull him over if the driver was say…driving erratically? No, of course not. That would make too much sense. There’s definitely more harm there than, say, a drug deal gone bad. You know how those cops love to point out to juries that drug dealers are violent types known to carry guns.
I don’t know why he chose to dissent in this case, but one can suspect that perhaps his whole intention isn’t really to distinguish between drunk driving and other offenses, but rather to do away with that pesky J.L. case altogether.
Either way, good thing he was all alone in his dissent. Well, besides that MADD amicus brief, which I won’t link to because this is a respectable, family oriented blog.