Investigative Detentions

How much information do the police need before a citizen can lawfully be detained for DWI or for any other crime—reasonable suspicion. The standard originates with a landmark 1968 Supreme Court case-Terry v. Ohio, 392 US 1 (1968).  This question can be important to someone arrested for DWI because the charge will likely get thrown out, if, at a minimum, reasonable suspicion for the initial stop did not exist.

In legalese, a temporary investigative detention is justified when the detaining officer has “specific articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts lead the officer to conclude that the person detained is, has been, or soon will been engaged in criminal activity”. This is something more than a hunch and less than probable cause. Texas courts require specific facts pointing toward a crime rather than mere conclusions. The quote below states the law on this point.

“Without specific, articulable facts, a court has no means in assessing whether this opinion was objectively reasonable”.  Ford v. State, 158 SW 3d 488 - Tex. Court of Criminal Appeals 2005.

Typically in a DWI case, the arresting officer personally observes the “bad driving” which justifies the stop. A myriad of possibilities exist to justify a stop-erratic or unsafe driving of all sorts. 

Frequently, however, the information or tip justifying the stop comes from a person other than a police officer-what the courts term, “the citizen-informant” or “citizen witness”. For example, a fellow driver calls 911 to report you for suspicion of DWI due to unsafe weaving or driving recklessly. A stop based upon a tip from someone identified by the police satisfies the Fourth Amendment because the tip is deemed to carry sufficient "indicia of reliability". In the DWI context, the “tipster” stops and identifies himself to the police or gives his name and contact information to the police dispatcher. The courts consider the tip to possess enough information to allow the officer to conclude that the caller-in is credible.

When the police detain someone on the basis of an anonymous tip, however, they must corroborate the tip. Corroboration means the police confirm enough facts to conclude that the information provided is reliable and a detention is justified.

To recap: stops to investigate, OK when reasonable suspicion to investigate; OK when information for the stop comes from an “informant” known to be credible; OK when information comes from an anonymous “informant” when the “tip” is corroborated by the police officer.