DUI and Citizen Informants in Montana

Often, DUI arrests are the result of citizen informants making calls to 911 which the officers rely on and make a traffic stop. Under the laws of Montana, an officer does not need to see illegal activity himself. The officer can rely on an informant’s statement that has sufficient indicia of reliability. The Montana Supreme Court has provided three factors to consider when deciding if a statement (and informant) is sufficiently reliable: 1) whether the informant identified himself; 2) whether the report makes it clear that it is based on the informant’s own observations; and 3) whether the officer corroborates the statement. As to #3, the officer can corroborate the statement without witnessing any illegal activity. The statement is considered corroborated if the officer finds the suspect or suspect’s vehicle substantially as described by the informant.

Here’s a more in-depth description of the relevant law:

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 11 of the Montana Constitution protect persons against unreasonable searches and seizures, including brief investigatory stops of vehicles. State v. Jarman, 1998 MT 277, ¶ 9, 967 P.2d 1099, ¶ 7 (citing United States v. Cortez (1981), 449 U.S. 411, 417, 101 S.Ct 690, 694-95, 66 L.Ed.2d 621, 628). To stop a person, an officer must have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person of criminal activity. Jarman, ¶ 9 (citing Brown v. Texas (1979), 443 U.S. 47, 51, 99 S.ct 2637, 2640, 61 L.ed.2d 357, 362).

In regard to investigative stops, § 46-5-401, MCA, provides:

In order to obtain or verify an account of the person’s presence or conduct or to determine whether to arrest the person, a peace officer may stop any person or vehicle that is observed in circumstances that create a particularized suspicion that the person or occupant of the vehicle has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense.

Moreover, “[t]o justify an investigative stop, an officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.” State v. Martinez, 2003 MT 65, ¶ 21, 314 Mont. 434, ¶ 21, 67 P.3d 207, ¶ 21 (citations omitted).

An officer need not personally observe illegal activity in order to have particularized suspicion justifying an investigative stop. State v. Fellers, 2004 MT 321, ¶ 21, 324 Mont. 62, 101 P.3d 764. Particularized suspicion may be based on information obtained via a citizen informant, as long as the informant’s information contains sufficient indicia of reliability. State v. Pratt, 286 Mont. 156, 164-68, 951 P.2d 37, 42-44 (1997). For an officer to effect an investigative stop based on a citizen informant’s report: (1) the citizen informant must identify himself or herself to law enforcement, (2) the report must be based upon the informant’s personal observations, and (3) the officer must corroborate the informant’s information by observing illegal activity or finding the person, the vehicle, and the vehicle’s location substantially as described by the informant. State v. Wagner, 2003 MT 120, ¶ 13, 315 Mont. 498, ¶ 13, 68 P.3d 840, ¶ 13 (citation omitted).

Even where an informant has identified himself and given a report based on personal observations, the officer must “corroborate the informant’s information by observing illegal activity or finding the person, the vehicle, and the vehicle’s location substantially as described by the informant.” Wagner, ¶ 13.

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