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Dirty DUI Stings Constitutional, Says Federal Court

Plaintiffs Mitchell Katz and Hasan Aksu sued Stephen Tanabe of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office for helping private investigator Christopher Butler set up a “dirty DUI” sting of which they were both victims. The United States District Court for the Northern District of California held that Tanabe did not violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping the plaintiffs because they were in fact driving while intoxicated.

police-cruiser-1066864-mTanabe and Butler met while they were both working as police officers for the Antioch Police Department in the mid-1990s. Tanabe left for the Danville Police Department in Contra Costa County, and Butler left to start his own private investigation firm. In October 2010, Butler and Tanabe agreed to participate in a dirty DUI scheme to catch plaintiffs with DUIs to use against them in Butler’s clients’ cases in family court. According to the court, Butler agreed to pay Tanabe for his help with cash, cocaine, and a Glock firearm.

The plaintiffs sued and Tanabe moved for summary judgment, arguing that he did not violate the plaintiffs’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. A court can grant a motion for summary judgment “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The court originally denied summary judgment as to the Fourth Amendment and related conspiracy claims. In April 2015, however, “upon further consideration,” the court revised its ruling to grant summary judgment as to the Fourth Amendment and related conspiracy claims, finding that even accepting the plaintiffs’ version of events, Tanabe’s actions did not violate the Fourth Amendment under Ninth Circuit law.

The court found that Tanabe had reasonable suspicion to stop the cars in light of Butler’s tips. Under the Fourth Amendment, a police officer may conduct an investigatory traffic stop if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that a particular person has committed or is about to commit a crime based on objective and reasonable inferences. The reasonableness of a stop depends on both the content of the information and its reliability.

The court found that the information Butler provided was detailed enough to support a police officer’s belief that a crime was about to occur. Butler told Tanabe that the plaintiffs were intoxicated, accurately identified the plaintiffs’ vehicles and their locations, and predicted that the vehicles would leave the bar when they did. To determine whether a tip is reasonable, courts look at the totality of the circumstances. Anonymous tips are sometimes sufficiently reliable. Recently, the Supreme Court held that an anonymous drunk driving tip from a 911 caller who communicated a detailed description of the vehicle, the vehicle’s direction, and that the car had run the caller off the road was sufficiently reliable.

According to Tanabe, Butler was a source with whom he was familiar and a former trained police officer. Butler’s job as a private investigator was to observe his targets and determine how much alcohol they consumed over a period of time. Despite the fact that Butler had planned this and other dirty DUIs, paying Tanabe with a Glock, Butler was “indeed reliable on the subject of Plaintiff’s inebriation.” Butler was biased in that he was hired to get the plaintiffs arrested for DUIs, since the purpose of the DUI scheme was to catch the plaintiffs driving under the influence and to use their DUI arrests against the plaintiffs in family court. Had the plaintiffs not really been intoxicated, the scheme would have failed. Thus, Butler was likely telling the truth. Viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, the court held, Butler’s tip created reasonable suspicion that the plaintiffs were engaged in criminal activity. The stops therefore were warranted.

The court also held that there was probable cause for the arrests. The Fourth Amendment requires that a warrantless arrest be supported by probable cause that a criminal offense has been or is being committed. Neither plaintiff disputed that once Tanabe stopped them, they looked inebriated, conceded that they had consumed alcohol, and failed field sobriety and breathalyzer tests. These circumstances, the court held, were sufficient to warrant a prudent person to believe that plaintiffs were driving while intoxicated.

The court concluded that there was both reasonable suspicion to stop the plaintiffs’ cars and probable cause to arrest the plaintiffs for driving under the influence, and therefore Tanabe did not violate the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights. The related conspiracy claims also failed. For these reasons, the court granted in part Tanabe’s motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment claims.

If you have been charged with a DUI crime in Illinois, it is crucial to speak to an experienced Illinois DUI lawyer as soon as possible. Harvatin Law Offices, PC provides knowledgeable representation for those in Springfield and throughout Illinois. We have considerable experience defending individuals charged with DUI offenses. To learn more and to set up a free initial consultation, contact us online or call us toll-free at 1-800-829-8513.

More Blog Posts:

Officer’s Reasonable Mistake of Law Does Not Render Traffic Stop Unconstitutional, Says New York Court, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, May 4, 2015.

Georgia Supreme Court Weakens Implied Consent Law, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, April 10, 2015.

Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Defendant’s Suspension Based on Officer’s Incomplete Report, Illinois DUI Lawyer Blawg, April 1, 2015.

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