Michigan DUI Case Based on Anonymous 911 Call Dismissed

In the case of People v. Pagano, the Michigan Supreme Court has indicated that a traffic stop based only on an anonymous 911 call is invalid. This ruling affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of both the child endangerment drunk driving and open intoxicants in a motor vehicle charges.

As the Pagano opinion indicates, the police received information from central dispatch that a woman was obnoxious and yelling at her children and appeared to be intoxicated.  The 911 caller also provided identifying information about the vehicle driven by the ostensibly intoxicated woman, including the license plate number and make and model of the car.

The Michigan Supreme Court, in the unanimous Pagano opinion, held that information provided to and by the officer failed to establish a “reasonable and articulable suspicion” either that a traffic violation had occurred or that criminal activity was afoot. While the Court acknowledged that the 911 caller was able to appropriately identify the individual involved and the car being driven by her, the tip still did not give rise to anything more than, at best, an “inchoate or unparticularized suspicion” of criminal activity. Otherwise, there was nothing in the record to suggest that the police officer making the traffic stop corroborated the 911 caller’s mere assertion that the driver was drunk.  There was no bad driving observed by the police officer, and the stop was based only on the information provided to the 911 caller.  After all, said the Court, parents can obnoxiously yell at their children without being drunk, and the 911 called also did not indicate that any bad driving was observed.

The court also distinguished the case from Navarette v California, where the United States Supreme Court held that a 911 call standing alone can provide a sufficient basis for a traffic stop. However, to do so, the 911 call must meet certain guidelines establishing the reliability of the “informant” and providing also some indication that the driving itself was consistent with intoxication. A minor traffic violation such as speeding or failing to wear a seat belt would not meet this standard, whereas weaving, driving all over the road, or almost running another driver off the street would all be sufficient. Consequently, in Pagano, the stop was not valid. While the Michigan Supreme Court’s opinion does not indicate that the case must be dismissed, remanding for “further proceedings consistent with this opinion” can mean nothing else.

The procedural history of this case is also interesting.  The attorney for Pagano filed a motion to dismiss which was granted by the District Court Judge. The prosecuting attorney appealed this decision to the Circuit Court. While noting that the motion was really one to suppress evidence and not to dismiss the case, the Circuit Court otherwise affirmed the District Court. The prosecuting attorney appealed again, this time to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Here the Court found, contrary to the other two courts, that in fact the police officer did have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot and reinstated the charges. In so ruling the Court of Appeals reversed both the District Court and the Circuit Court. The Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to Pagano, and their opinion reversed the Michigan Court of Appeals, effectively sustaining the dismissal of the child endangerment drunk driving case.

Many attorneys faced with charges such as intoxicated driving with a child as passenger, Michigan Compiled Laws, Sec. 257.625(7)(a)(i), combined with open intoxicants in a motor vehicle, MCL 257.624a would look at the police report, see a bunch of bad facts, and convince the client that the only option was a plea of guilty. Few Michigan DUI lawyers are dauntless enough to fight a case like this all the up to the Michigan Supreme Court. If you are charged with DUI in Michigan, have one of the DUI lawyers at the Barone Defense Firm provide you with case evaluation, which is always free of charge. Find out why our motto is “an arrest is not a conviction.”

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