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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Courts - More on: "SCOTUS declines to set rule on drunk driving stops, letting stand a Virginia court ruling that police must actually see erratic driving – and not just rely on anonymous tips – to stop a suspected drunk driver"

Updating this ILB entry from Oct. 21st, the Washington Post today has this editorial, headed "'One free swerve': The Supreme Court lets stand a bad Virginia decision on drunken driving." This is the case where, as The Christian Science Monitor story quoted Oct. 21st begins:

The US Supreme Court has let stand a ruling in Virginia that police officers must personally observe erratic driving before stopping a suspected drunken driver.
From today's WAPO editorial:
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Antonin Scalia were the only two justices who would have heard the case. In a written explanation, Chief Justice Roberts noted that state and federal jurisdictions have issued conflicting rulings on the standards that law enforcement agents must meet when acting on anonymous tips; the Supreme Court, he wrote, should clear up these conflicts and set standards for how these matters should be handled in the future.

More important, he said that decisions like the one in Virginia essentially give drunken-driving miscreants "one free swerve" before they can be stopped by a police officer. "It will be difficult for an officer to explain to the family of a motorist killed by that swerve that the police had a tip that the driver of the other car was drunk, but that they were powerless to pull him over, even for a quick check," Chief Justice Roberts wrote.

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) and AAA Mid-Atlantic, two local groups with an interest in eradicating drunken driving, fear that some may now think that tips are futile. While it's a travesty that the Virginia high court has made it harder for police officers to act on such tips, it is not impossible. Citizens should continue to blow the whistle on suspected drunk drivers.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 27, 2009 09:05 AM
Posted to Courts in general