Chief Justice Roberts Protests DWI Case Rejection – Virginia v. Harris

[10/21/09 – 11:17 pm] In a highly unusual move, United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has published a dissent expressing his displeasure in the Court’s rejection of the appeal of a Virginia drunk driving case. The case in question, Virginia v. Harris had been decided by the Virginia Supreme Court. The state court opinion held that when police receive an anonymous tip that a drunk driver is operating a motor vehicle, the police officers may not stop the vehicle until they actually witness the driver do something unsafe on the roadway. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia both sought to accept an appeal of this decision from Virginia. However, the appeal will not be heard because an insufficient number of additional Justices agreed to hear the case.

In his dissenting opinion, the Chief Justice decried the state court decision and characterized it as allowing drunk drivers “one free swerve” before they can be legally pulled over by the police. Although not unheard of, a dissent stemming from a rejected appeal is an extremely unusual event in the United States Supreme Court.

In New Jersey, our Supreme Court has previously considered this precise issue and has ruled that an uncorroborated tip to the police about an intoxicated driver can constitute sufficient reasonable suspicion for the police to effect a motor vehicle stop of the questioned vehicle. (State v. Golotta, 178 N.J. 205 (2003)).

Download a copy of Virginia v. Harris.

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