Supreme Court Backs Virginia in Drunk Driving Decision

Oct 26, 2009

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on October 20th challenged the authority of policeofficers in dealing with drunk drivers based on indirect evidence.

Despite resistance fromChief Justice John G. Roberts, the Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Virginia Supreme Court that states police may follow but notstop a suspected drunk driver’s vehicle until the officer actually observessuspicious behavior.


Many states have upheldvehicle searches based entirely on called-in tips to officers as long as thevehicle in question matches the description provided.  While the Virginia rulingeliminates this possibility in one case, it does not set a legal precedent andother states are not required to follow the same rule.


The Virginiaruling actually frees Joseph Harris of Richmond.Harris was arrested recently when a caller reported seeing a drunk driver inHarris’ Nissan Altima.  The caller, who has identified himself to police,also provided a portion of Harris’ license plate number.  Harris wasarrested after an officer pulled over the car and found him visiblyintoxicated.  However, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the arrestconstituted an “unreasonable search” because the officer had no firsthandevidence for pulling the car over.


The Virginia prosecutors’ appeal to the U.SSupreme Court was defeated by a vote of 7-2.  Chief Justice Roberts andJustice Antonin Scalia both voted to overturn the decision.


Photo courtesy of Alex E. Proimos underthe Creative Commons License.