State v. Coleman, 228 N.C. App. 76 (Jun. 18, 2013)

An officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant’s vehicle. A “be on the lookout” call was issued after a citizen caller reported that there was a cup of beer in a gold Toyota sedan with license number VST-8773 parked at the Kangaroo gas station at the corner of Wake Forest Road and Ronald Drive. Although the complainant wished to remain anonymous, the communications center obtained the caller’s name as Kim Creech. An officer responded and observed a vehicle fitting the caller’s description. The officer followed the driver as he pulled out of the lot and onto Wake Forest Road and then pulled him over. The officer did not observe any traffic violations. After a test indicated impairment, the defendant was charged with DWI. Noting that the officer’s sole reason for the stop was Creech’s tip, the court found that the tip was not reliable in its assertion of illegality because possessing an open container of alcohol in a parking lot is not illegal. It concluded: “Accordingly, Ms. Creech’s tip contained no actual allegation of criminal activity.” It further found that the officer’s mistaken belief that the tip included an actual allegation of illegal activity was not objectively reasonable. Finally, the court concluded that even if the officer’s mistaken belief was reasonable, it still would find the tip insufficiently reliable. Considering anonymous tip cases, the court held that although Creech’s tip provided the license plate number and location of the car, “she did not identify or describe defendant, did not provide any way for [the] Officer . . . to assess her credibility, failed to explain her basis of knowledge, and did not include any information concerning defendant’s future actions.”