Michigan Drunk Driving Case Dismissed After Anonymous 911 Call Ruled Insufficient to Support Traffic Stop

Michigan drivers are sometimes stopped under suspicion of intoxicated driving after a concerned citizen calls 911. The validity of these traffic stops are highly fact-specific, and depending on exactly what is reported to 911, the stop may or may not be sufficient to support a DUI conviction.

One case in Michigan where the DUI traffic stop was deemed to be invalid, and the drunk driving case dismissed, is People v. Pagano, 507 Mich. 26, 967 N.W.2d 590 (2021). In this intoxicated driving case the Michigan Supreme Court specifically found that the traffic stop based only on the 911 was insufficient to establish a reasonable suspicion that the driver was drunk. Because the stop was therefore legally invalid, the Court had no other choice but to dismiss the case outright.

In Pagano, the 911 caller reported that they had observed a woman driving while yelling at her kids and generally behaving in an obnoxious manner. While the caller indicated that they believed the driver was intoxicated, no other information was provided in support of this contention. However, the caller did provide much identifying information relative to the car being driven, including the license plate number, the make model and color of the car, and the direction the vehicle was traveling.

Additionally, there was no evidence relative to the caller’s identification and the 911 recording itself was never entered into evidence. The content of the 911 call was recited by the arresting officer during his testimony, and it is unclear from the record if there was a hearsay objection to this testimony or how the trial judge may have responded to such objection.

Subsequent to the 911 call an officer was dispatched, who then located and stopped the identified vehicle. The officer did not independently corroborate the alleged intoxication prior to the stop, and also observed no traffic violations.  The stop therefore was entirely based on the information provided in the 911 call.

Both the opinions of both the Michigan Supreme Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals are silent as to the roadside investigation, so there is no information relative to the driver’s bodily alcohol content or how she performed on any field sobriety evaluations that may have been administered. The opinion only indicates that she was arrested for child endangerment, an enhanced form of first offense drunk driving, and open intoxicants in a motor vehicle.

The Supreme Court indicated in their opinion that in this appeal they were charged with the responsibility of determining whether the information provided in the anonymous 911 call was sufficient to provide the officer with a reasonable and articulable suspicion to justify a Terry stop, which, in a drunk driving case, requires that the officer form a reasonable and articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. In Michigan the law indicates that reasonable and articulable suspicion is a lesser showing than probable cause but is more than a mere hunch. To justify a traffic, stop a police must have had a “particularized and objective basis” for stopping the vehicle.  None was provided here by the police officer and the police officer did not obtain one independently. Consequently the DUI stop was ruled invalid.

To get to the point of dismissing this DUI case based on a bad traffic stop, the court found it necessary to distinguish the leading case of Navarette v California, 572 US 393, 402; 134 S. Ct. 1683; 188 L. Ed. 2d 680; 572 U.S. 393; 134 S Ct 1683; 188 L. Ed. 2d 680; 572 U.S. 393; 134 S. Ct. 1683; 188 L Ed 2d 680 (2014).  In Navarette the court found that because the 911 caller had described driving behaviors commonly associated with intoxicated driving, such as “weaving all over the roadway,” the traffic stop on that basis alone was sufficient. There was no such driving in this case.

If you have been arrested for drunk driving based on an anonymous 911 call, have one of the Michigan DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm evaluate your case. Like the Pagano case, it may turn out that the stop was invalid.

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