Should anonymous tip of drunk driver stand in court? Havre judge to decide

A judge will hear arguments in a local drunken driving case in which a defense lawyer says the police illegally stopped his client.

On July 9, District Court Judge Kaydee Snipes Ruiz will listen to arguments from Havre attorney Brian Lilleftvedt, who believes the evidence of his client’s drinking and driving should be dismissed because Havre police made an illegal stop.

Snipes-Ruiz will also hear from Tamara Barkus, who’s representing the city of Havre, on why the officer who pulled over Dolan Weaver Tuss was within the law and the case should continue to trial.

The judge will make a ruling after the hearing.

Without evidence after the stop, the city has no case against his client, Lilleftvedt contends.

The District Court case is an appeal from City Court, where on March 7 Tuss pleaded guilty to aggravated DUI-third offense. The intent was to appeal before the guilty plea, Lilleftvedt has said. Before admitting to the charge, Tuss’ attorney tried to make the same case in City Court that evidence of Tuss’ DUI was illegally gathered.

Here’s what happened, according to court documents:

On Aug. 2, a woman reported to police that a drunken Tuss left a Havre convenience store, got in his pickup and drove away.

An officer found the vehicle and pulled Tuss over on Third Street.

He told Tuss why he stopped him and “the driver said he was at Town Pump prior to the traffic stop and admitted to drinking.” Tuss had a female passenger in the pickup.

The officer said Tuss smelled of alcohol and seemed confused. He couldn’t find his registration or proof of insurance. His speech was slurred and his eyes were bloodshot and watery, the officer said.

Tuss failed the “walk and turn” and “one-legged stand” tests and, after refusing to take the preliminary alcohol screening test, was arrested and taken to jail.

Later that day, the officer spoke to the man who was responsible for police learning that Tuss was driving drunk.

The man, according to charging documents, said he saw Tuss and a female stumbling and swaying in Town Pump. Their speech was slurred and they continued to stumble once they were outside. The man said he advised Tuss to call someone for a ride. Tuss mumbled something and climbed into the pickup, the man told the officer.

The man said it was his sister who called the police. She was not in the store and only saw Tuss and the female come out of the store, stumbling.

Lilletvedt’s argument is that an anonymous tip is not sufficient justification to pull someone over for alleged drunken driving.

“Otherwise, people could be pulling you over all the time,” he said in an interview with the Herald.

Lilletvedt said that legal precedent provides a three-part test to help officers determine if they can legally pull someone over based on a citizen’s report:

The informant must identify themselves; the informant’s report must be based on personal observation; and the officer’s observation needs to corroborate what the informant reported.

Lilletvedt argues the officer didn’t have legal suspicion to pull his client over; legal precedent says the reporting caller must identify themselves and that the report must be based on their own observations.

The officer only knew that the vehicle was leaving Town Pump, it had temporary license plates, and that it was headed east.

“He didn’t know why the caller believed the driver was drunk,” Lilletvedt said in the document.

Furthermore, Lilletvedt said, the officer didn’t report any behaviors to validate that Tuss was drunk. In fact, the dash cam shows just the opposite. Tuss was not speeding, he used his vehicle’s turning signal properly and at all appropriate times, and his lights were on, the defense attorney says.

The city of Havre, represented by Tamara Barkus, said the officer had plenty of reasons to pull Tuss over.

The city recognizes that anonymous tips have been scrutinized on the basis that it makes it easy for people to make false reports that result in innocent drivers being pulled over, inconveniencing police. But past cases also show that under the appropriate circumstances, tips can lead to reasonable suspicion.

In this case, the city argues in its filings, the person who called police provided her full name as well as her brother’s name. She also told police where they were, their suspicion that Tuss was drunk, and provided an accurate description of the vehicle he was driving, Barkus contends.

“Clearly,” Barkus said, the call from the woman at Town Pump reporting a possible drunken driver, combined with information gathered after the stop, prove the officer had plenty of justification to pull Tuss over.