People v. Barbarich: OWI Stops Based on Tips from Other Drivers

The Michigan Supreme Court in People v. Barbarich tackled the issue of whether a traffic stop was justified when the only basis for the stop was a tip from an unnamed person who told a police officer a driver was being dangerous or reckless. The driver in this case was charged with operating while intoxicated.

What Happened In the Case

On St. Patrick’s Day, a Michigan State Trooper was out on patrol near a bar when he encountered a driver who pointed to Defendant’s car and mouthed the words, “almost hit me.” The Trooper then pursued the car, pulled over the driver, and arrested her for operating while intoxicated.

The Trooper never spoke to that first driver, and stated the stop was based solely on the tip from the driver. The Trooper acknowledged he never saw any bad driving that would justify a traffic stop.

The Court’s Analysis

The Court believed the tip was credible, reasoning that the driver made the tip with verifiable and  contemporaneous fashion. Moreover, the driver knew she could have been the subject of police questioning because she was face-to-face with the police officer. The Court concluded the tip provided the officer with enough information to believe the Defendant had engaged in either careless driving, reckless driving, or operating while intoxicated. There was enough information for the Trooper to have articulable suspicion to make a traffic stop, the Court said.

The Law

In general, the Fourth Amendment requires protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures (such as traffic stops). Searches made with warrants are deemed reasonable. However, searches without warrants may still be reasonable in certain situations. The test for what is reasonable, “balances the governmental interest that justifies the intrusion against an individual’s right to be free of arbitrary police interference.”

The Court went on to explain that the higher the government’s interest is, the more likely a warrantless search or seizure will be reasonable, especially if the individual’s interest is relatively low. So essentially it’s a balancing test that the Court’s use but the Court also determines what is important, relatively speaking.

The Court’s Opinion

The Court ruled that the tip here was a sufficient basis to legally justify the traffic stop.

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Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 2750 Carpenter Rd #2, Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

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