The cases coming down lately concerning police search and seizure have dealt with police informants and whether or not a police stop is warranted upon the evidence and the quality of the informant.
The last case I reported dealt with an anonymous informant and the correct reliance of a police officer on the tipster’s report. In that case a motion to suppress evidence should have been granted.
In this case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court reversed the ruling of a District Court judge, who had granted a motion to suppress evidence in a drunk driving case.
The court ruled that the information supplied by a witness motor vehicle operator was sufficient for the officer to make his stop of the defendant proper.
Citing another recent case, the court stated that dealt with a citizen witness who reports to police about dangerous, erratic driving that the citizen witness has just observed on the road.
The court concluded that a tip from a citizen witness who was identifiable, and who presented himself in person to police to report information of some urgency was sufficiently reliable to justify police investigation. The Court went on to say that the reasoning of the already decided case applied to this case.
The court record showed that in the present case the police officer undertook to stop the defendant based upon more than simply an anonymous tip. The lower court judge made in his findings that the woman in the Ford coupe was the same person who had telephoned police. When the officer arrived, she was positioned as she had indicated in her call, driving behind the defendant and she took great pains to bring attention to herself and to point out the defendant to the officer by repeatedly flashing her lights and motioning to the defendant’s vehicle. Thus she was akin to a citizen bystander and was not the equivalent of a faceless informer.
The citizen witness made no effort to preserve her anonymity. Indeed even before she pulled over to speak with the officer after the stop, the officer could have noted the license plate number of her vehicle. Finally, it is relevant in assessing the objective reasonableness of the officer’s response that the target of the tip was in a moving vehicle, presenting an imminent danger to the public; and in this case, by being all over the road, possibly drunk, going over the lines, swerving back and forth, thus the nature of the situation , together with the reliability of the citizen witness, gave the officer a reasonable basis for the stopping the defendant’s vehicle.
The Court ruled: The order allowing the defendant’s motion to suppress is therefore reversed.
(Commonwealth v. Cox (Docket no. 01-P-0907
I believe that the majority of states hold that reliable citizen witnessing can be the basis of a police stop. The facts of each case must be scrutinized to determine if the stops are justified and these cases set an example, by the court’s analysis of letting the public and the legal world know their criteria or standard.