State v. Neal, ___ N.C. App. ___, 833 S.E.2d 367 (Sept. 17, 2019)

An anonymous person contacted law enforcement to report that a small green vehicle with license plate RCW-042 was in a specific area, had run several vehicles off the road, had struck a vehicle, and was attempting to leave the scene. Deputies went to the area and immediately stopped a vehicle matching the description given by the caller. The defendant was driving the vehicle. She was unsteady on her feet and appeared to be severely impaired. A trooper arrived and administered SFSTs, which the trooper terminated because the defendant could not complete them safely. A subsequent blood test revealed multiple drugs in the defendant’s system. The defendant was charged with impaired driving, was convicted in district court and in superior court, and appealed.

The defendant argued that the stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion as it was based on an anonymous tip and was not corroborated by any observation of bad driving. The court of appeals disagreed, noting some tension between prior North Carolina case law emphasizing the need to corroborate anonymous tips and Navarette v. California, 572 U.S. 393 (2014), which found reasonable suspicion of impaired driving based on an anonymous caller’s report that a vehicle had nearly run the caller off the road. The court stated that it “need not resolve the apparent tension between our previous case law and Navarette” because the tip in this case involved a very timely report of multiple driving incidents and so was sufficiently reliable to provide reasonable suspicion.

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