DES MOINES — An anonymous tip is not enough probable cause for a police officer to stop a motorist suspected of drunken driving, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in a split decision handed down Friday.
The case involved a June 16, 2010, traffic stop involving Leon Koomia. Officers pulled Koomia over after dispatchers received an anonymous tip that he and his friends had been drinking and Koomia was driving drunk.
Koomia was stopped, failed field sobriety tests and registered a .088 blood-alcohol content on a breath test, .008 over the legal limit in the state. Koomia argued the stop was an illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment because the officers acknowledged they based the stop on the tip and not on their own observations.
The Supreme Court agreed and ordered a new trial for Koomia, suppressing evidence from the field tests and the breath tests.
“The facts relayed by the tipster … could be observed by the general public and did not indicate the tipster was someone with intimate knowledge of what the defendant was doing in order to be able to predict future behavior,” Justice David Wiggins wrote in the majority opinion.
“Before concluding, we stress this court does not condone drunk driving. However, our oath requires us to uphold the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the Supreme Court.”
In a dissent, Justice Edward Mansfield wrote that he thought the tip was sufficient evidence for the stop. He compared it to an earlier case in which the court ruled that police were justified in stopping an erratic driver based on a tip.
“As we have already pointed out, this case is functionally similar to the erratic driving cases, which the majority agrees were correctly decided,” Mansfield wrote. “The only difference is that the criminal activity involved intoxicated individuals getting into a car to drive away instead of erratic driving.”His dissent was joined by justices Thomas Waterman and Mark Cady.