CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dissent from Cert Denial in Case Involving Drunk Driving Program

Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justice Scalia, dissented in Virginia v. Harris. The dissent is here. Here's how the Chief describes the case:

By a 4-to-3 vote, the Virginia Supreme Court below adopted a rule that will undermine such efforts to get drunk drivers off the road. The decision below commands that police officers following a driver reported to be drunk do nothing until they see the driver actually do something unsafe on the road—by which time it may be too late.

Here, a Richmond police officer pulled Joseph Harris over after receiving an anonymous tip that Harris was driving while intoxicated. The tip described Harris, his car, and the direction he was traveling in considerable detail. The officer did not personally witness Harris violate any traffic laws. When Harris was pulled over, however, he reeked of alcohol, his speech was slurred, he almost fell over in attempting to exit his car, and he failed the sobriety tests the officer administered on the scene. Harris was convicted of driving while intoxicated, but the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the conviction. It concluded that because the officer had failed to independently verify that Harris was driving dangerously, the stop violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

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