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Can Houston Police Rely on 911 Tips to Initiate Drunk Driving Stops?

A Houston police officer does not need firsthand evidence of drunk driving to pull you over and make a DWI arrest. Texas courts allow an officer to “stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes” if he or she has a “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has occurred or is likely to occur. The crime itself need not be drunk driving. It is often a traffic violation, but it can be another misdemeanor offense. And once the officer has reasonable suspicion to initiate a stop, any evidence the officer gathers–including voluntary statements from the driver–may be used to justify a DWI charge.

Court Upholds Driver’s Felony DWI Conviction

In some cases an officer may develop “reasonable suspicion” based on a tip from a member of the public. Consider this recent Texas DWI and drunk driving case. The defendant was driving a white SUV late one evening when he was pulled over by a police officer. The officer was responding to a 911 call from a woman who reported seeing a man at the drive-thru window of a restaurant “yelling at the employee taking orders and yelling at a girl in the parking lot.” The woman, who gave her name to the 911 dispatcher, said the driver “seemed a little irate so I figured he was drunk or something.”

The officer said he pulled the defendant over on suspicion of “disorderly conduct” and “family violence,” based on the information provided by the 911 caller. During the course of the stop, the defendant admitted “he had two drinks earlier that day.” The officer then performed several field sobriety tests on the defendant, which led to his arrest for DWI.

Before the trial court, the defendant argued the officer lacked “reasonable suspicion” to detain him in the first place. The judge disagreed. A Texas appeals court later confirmed this ruling. The appeals court said the police were entitled to treat the 911 caller’s information as “reliable” since she gave her name, and that this provided a reasonable basis for the officer to suspect the defendant committed disorderly conduct, which was enough to justify the traffic stop.

Since the defendant had two prior DWI convictions, he was charged this third time with a felony. He entered a guilty plea–having reserved his right to appeal as described above–and the judge sentenced him 10 years in jail, with all but ten days suspended. The defendant will still have to spend six years on probation and pay a $1,000 fine.

Have You Been Charged With Drunk Driving?

Never assume that just because a police officer does not personally witness you driving erratically or engaging in illegal conduct that you cannot be detained and ultimately charged with a crime. Texas judges tend to give the benefit of the doubt to police officer testimony, especially when as in the case above it is backed up by a 911 call. This is why you should never volunteer information when questioned by police. And if you are charged with drunk driving, call the experienced DWI defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston, or League City today (281) 280-0100.