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Justices rule on citizen tip in drunk driving case

December 30, 2011

The Indiana Supreme Court has held that a police officer had reasonable suspicion to make an investigatory stop after receiving from dispatch a concerned citizen’s report of a suspected drunk driver.

In State of Indiana v. Amanda Renzulli, No. 32S04-1102-CR-117, a four-justice majority ruled that the concerned citizen tip was sufficient to support the investigatory stop that led to three failed sobriety tests and the arrest of Amanda Renzulli in Plainfield in April 2009.

A man called 911 to report that Renzulli’s car was driving erratically and possibly could hurt another motorist, and the caller told the dispatcher that the vehicle pulled into a BP gas station. He gave the dispatcher his phone number and address. Police responded and found Renzulli on the scene with visible signs of drunkenness, and she failed three field sobriety tests before being arrested. A blood draw later showed she had a blood alcohol content of 0.22 percent and she was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, a class D felony because of a prior conviction from 2005. She filed a motion to suppress the evidence and the Hendricks Superior judge granted it.

Relying on its decision in Kellem v. State, 842 N.E. 2d 352 (Ind. 2006), the Supreme Court decided that it needed to look at the totality of the circumstances of each case when deciding whether a police tip provided the needed reasonably articulable suspicion of criminal activity needed for an investigatory stop. Determining that a concerned citizen tip is equivalent to an anonymous tip in the context of caselaw, the Indiana justices used a Court of Appeals decision from 2000 to hold that a citizen tip is sufficient when that person provides specific information to police allowing them to verify that person’s reliability. The cited case was Bogetti v. State, 723 N.E.2d 876, 879 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000), and the justices used that analysis when looking at how the tipster in this case provided the vehicle description and location, as well as his own information.

Justice Steven David wrote the opinion, with Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justice Frank Sullivan concurring in reversing the trial court. Justice Brent Dickson concurred in result, and Justice Robert Rucker dissented in a separate position.

On the final page of the opinion, David included a footnote that says, “It may be advisable in the future for 911 operators to take further identifying information from concerned citizen tips. Information such as date of birth, home address, along with the name and telephone number of a concerned citizen would give greater reliability to these types of tips. This information would potentially place the concerned citizen under penalties of false informing and would help alleviate the concern of a possible imposter or prankster.”

Rucker found that Kellem is distinguishable, because there was little to no police corroboration in this case and the citizen reporting Renzulli’s driving identified her as a “he.” Because this was such a close call, Rucker says he would have agreed with the trial court that the responding officer didn’t establish an independent and objective basis to create reasonable suspicion needed for the stop.

 

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