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Appeals Court: Citizen Phone Call Enough for DWI Stop

By Joe Hart

COURT HOUSE — A phone call from a concerned citizen describing erratic behavior is sufficient cause for police to stop a motor vehicle operator for drunk driving, according to a state Appellate Division court.

On Aug. 12, 2007, a Middle Township police dispatcher instructed Officer Jason Sweitzer to proceed to Court House/Dennisville Road to investigate an erratically driven vehicle that had nearly collided head-on with two vehicles, according to court documents.

The dispatcher had received two calls from a concerned citizen regarding the impaired driver and provided a vehicle description and license plate number.

Sweitzer located the vehicle matching the description and license plate given by the dispatcher traveling on Magnolia Drive near the area where the citizen observed the erratic behavior. Although he never observed any suspicious driving, Sweitzer pulled the car over, which led to drunk driving charges to be filed against Theodore Roman.

On Oct. 1, last year, Roman filed a motion to suppress in the Middle Township Municipal Court. The motion was denied by the municipal court judge, Peter Tourison on Oct. 29.

Following the denial of his motion, Roman pled guilty to operating a vehicle under the influence of intoxicating liquor. He was sentenced to $664 in fines and other fees and had his driving privileges suspended for seven months. The judge, however, granted Roman’s motion for a stay of the sentence pending appeal.

Roman appealed the matter to Superior Court Judge Raymond A. Batten, who also denied Roman’s motion, found him guilty of the offense, and imposed the same sentence as was imposed by the municipal court judge. Batten also granted Roman’s motion for a stay of the sentence pending appeal.

The current appeal was submitted on Nov. 19 this year and decided on Dec. 11 by Appellate Judges Ariel A. Rodriquez and Alexander P. Waugh Jr.

“Having reviewed the record and considered the (Roman’s) points raised on appeal, we conclude that they are without merit and affirm,” the Appellate decision stated.

The judges cited a 2003 state Supreme Court precedent, State v. Golotta, which held that information from a 9-1-1 caller “must convey an unmistakable sense that the caller has witnessed an ongoing offense that implicates a risk of imminent death or serious injury to a particular person such as a vehicle’s driver or to the public at large.”

“The caller also must place the call close in time to his first-hand observations,” the decision continued. “When a caller bears witness to such an offense and quickly reports it by using the 9-1-1 system, those factors contribute to his reliability in a manner that relieves the police of the verification requirements normally associated with an anonymous tip.”

The court was satisfied that the vehicle stop did not violate Roman’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and that there was a sufficient factual basis for the motor vehicle stop.

Contact Hart at (609) 886-8600 Ext 35 or at:

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