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Wing v. State – Stop after accident reported on 911 need no corroboration

Wing v. State, A14A0136, Court of Appeals of Georgia, May 27, 2014. On April 7, 2013, police received a dispatch over the radio from a 911 operator that a car had struck another car parked in a church parking lot. When the officer arrived at the parking lot he observed a blue car driving away and 3 to 5 bystanders pointing at the blue vehicle. The Officer immediately pursued the blue car and initiated a traffic stop. Defendant Connie Wing was convicted of DUI as a result of the stop. The defendant had argued that the stop was illegal as there was no investigation that there was even an accident in the first place or violation of the law. The Henry County Trial Court in McDonough found that the stop was legal based on Brown v. State, 261 Ga. App. 228,582 S.E.2d 183 (2003), where police were dispatched to a Waffle House after the report of a fight and upon arrival observed a truck leaving with several bystanders pointing the truck out to police.

An officer may stop a vehicle for investigation if it is justified by specific, articulable facts sufficient to give rise to a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct. This suspicion need not meet the standard of probable cause but must be more than mere caprice or a hunch or an inclination. A founded suspicion is all that is necessary, some basis from which the court can determine that the detention was not arbitrary or harassing. A driver fleeing the scene of an accident or a bank robber fleeing a bank are examples of such situations and in certain situations, police are trained to expect certain patterns of conduct. Further, when a radio dispatcher reports a crime at a certain location gives articulable suspicion to detain certain individuals in the immediate vicinity. Johnson v. State, 302 Ga. App. 318, 322 (2) (a) (690 SE2d 683) (2010) (noting that “a dispatcher who reports a crime at a specified location gives police an articulable suspicion to investigate and detain individuals . . ., particularly where police observations on arriving at the scene corroborate the dispatcher’s report”) (citations, punctuation, and footnotes omitted).

The articulable suspicion is based on the totality of the circumstances like bystanders pointing and saying the car that was leaving was in the accident. State v. Diamond, 223 Ga. App. 164, 166 (477 SE2d 320) (1996) (“The specific articulable suspicion must be based on the totality of the circumstances — objective observations, known patterns of certain kinds of lawbreakers, and inferences drawn and deductions made by trained law enforcement personnel.”)  Such a stop is legal if it is demonstrated not to be premised on mere caprice, hunch, or inclination, and was neither arbitrary nor harassing in nature. It should be noted that the lack of corroboration is based on the specific location, the type of alleged crime, i.e., an actual accident, and the immediate response of law enforcement. This would not be the case in a situation where someone sees a car weave and calls 911 to inform authorities of a possible drunk driver which is itself a hunch and guesswork.

-Author: George Creal