When can you rely on a tip to make a stop?
These three cases highlight the most basic issues that come up in a tip-based stop: identifying whether the suspect is an “identified citizen informant” or a “known” or “anonymous” informant.
State v. George:
Police received a call from Mitchell Gardner that a blue Ford Focus was following and threatening the car his fiancée was driving. Gardner gave police a description of the vehicle and its occupants and was told by dispatch to stop and talk to officers, which he did. Meanwhile, Officer Matthew Howell identified a vehicle that matched the description and followed it to a nearby parking lot. While other officers spoke to the informant, Howell questioned the driver of the suspect vehicle.
State v. Atkins:
Dispatch received a cell phone call regarding a vehicle that appeared to be operating erratically. Trooper Daniel Moran Jr. caught up with the vehicle, driven by Holly Atkins, and the caller (who had kept up with Atkins’ car) confirmed the trooper had the right car. The trooper later spoke with the driver and passenger from the informant car.
State v. Hahn:
An officer was dispatched to a residential area after an unknown person claimed there were noises that sounded like car doors being opened. While investigating, the officer noticed a vehicle driving away at a high rate of speed. (He later said he did not do a visual estimation of speed, nor was speed the reason for the stop).
Why these cases are important:
There are three types of informants: identified citizens, known, and anonymous. “Known informants” are probably the easiest to identify because they are criminal contacts an officer relies on for tips. The difference between identified citizens and anonymous informants can be much blurrier, especially in today’s world of cell phones and caller ID. But it can be an extremely important distinction.
When an identified citizen informant gives a tip, the courts generally consider that good enough to meet the reasonable suspicion standard necessary to make a stop. On the other hand, if the informant is anonymous, the police must independently corroborate the tip or personally observe evidence sufficient for reasonable suspicion.
For example, it does not appear, in any of these cases, that the arresting officer knew the name of the informants
before making a stop. And so in each case, the defendant argued that the informant was anonymous.
, the court found that the caller was an identified civilian informant because he stopped to talk to other officers while Officer Howell was stopping the suspect. Similarly, in Atkins
, the informant followed the suspect vehicle until Trooper Moran caught up with it and confirmed the identity of the vehicle while the trooper was there. In both cases, the courts found there was enough information to consider the informants to be identified civilian informants and, therefore, there was no need for independent corroboration.
By contrast, in Hahn
, the officer did not have information on the caller’s identity nor was there any reason for the officer to believe he would be able to identify the caller. When an informant is not identifiable (and therefore, not subject to being charged with providing false information), the informant is anonymous.
When you have an anonymous informant, you must
get independent corroboration of criminal activity before you can stop a suspect.
Keep in mind:
When it comes to tips, it definitely pays to have a good working relationship with your dispatchers. If you can determine that an informant is an “identified citizen,” you can make a stop based solely on their statements. And sometimes the question of whether they are identified is based on fluid facts that you’ll get from dispatch. If you both know what signs to look for, you can decide whether to make a stop immediately or whether you need to treat the informant as anonymous. In the latter case, you’re going to need independent reasonable suspicion.
Visit the Ohio Fourth District Court of Appeals website
) and the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals (Atkins
) website to view the entire opinions.