If a Tipster is Himself Intoxicated, Will He Be Reliable Enough for that to be Reasonable Suspicion to Pull Me Over?

By | April 16, 2013

Before initiating a stop, a “police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant [the] intrusion.” Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). Determination of whether reasonable suspicion exists in any given case requires review of the totality of the surrounding facts and circumstances. State v. Bobo, 37 Ohio St.3d 177, 524 N.E.2d 489 (1988), paragraph one of the syllabus. Those circumstances must be viewed through the eyes of the reasonable and prudent police officer on the scene who must react to events as they unfold. State v. Andrews, 57 Ohio St.3d 86, 89, 565 N.E.2d 1271 (1991).

The traffic stop in the case of State v. Boiani, 2013 Ohio 1342 was based solely on an informant’s tip that Boiani was driving under the influence of alcohol. In Maumee v. Weisner, 87 Ohio St.3d 295, 1999 Ohio 68, 720 N.E.2d 507, the Ohio Supreme Court held that a telephone tip can, standing alone, create reasonable suspicion justifying an investigative stop if the tip has sufficient indicia of reliability. Id., paragraph one of the syllabus.

Under these circumstances, the determination of reasonable suspicion is limited to an examination of the weight and reliability of the tip. Id. The focus is on “whether the tip itself has sufficient indicia of reliability to justify the investigative stop.” Id. The most important factors in determining the reliability of an informant’s report are “the informant’s veracity, reliability, and basis of knowledge.” Id., citing Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 328, 110 S.Ct. 2412, 110 L.Ed.2d 301 (1990).

In assessing the reliability of the informant’s tip, the Weisner court stated that it is useful to categorize informants according to their typical characteristics. Id. at 300. It has generally been accepted that there are three classes of informants: the anonymous informant, the known informant, [**6] and the identified citizen informant. Id. The Weisner court explained:

While the United States Supreme Court discourages conclusory analysis based solely upon these categories, insisting instead upon a totality of the circumstances review, it has acknowledged their relevance to an informant’s reliability. The court has observed, for example, that an anonymous informant is comparatively unreliable and his tip, therefore, will generally require independent police corroboration. Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. at 329, 110 S.Ct. at 2415, 110 L.Ed.2d at 308. The court has further suggested that an identified citizen informant may be highly reliable and, therefore, a strong showing as to the other indicia of reliability may be unnecessary: “If an unquestionably honest citizen comes forward with a report of criminal activity — which if fabricated would subject him to criminal liability — we have found rigorous scrutiny of the basis of his knowledge unnecessary.” Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. [213,] 233-234, 103 S.Ct. [2317,] 2329-2330, 76 L.Ed.2d [527,] 545.

Id. Finally, the court held that where the informant provides identifying information, including his name and phone number, and the informant remained on the scene, making face-to-face contact a possibility, police have sufficient information to classify that informant as an identified citizen. Id.

But in the Boiani case, the Strongsville police met with the informant in person to verify his report before making the traffic stop. At the suppression hearing, the officer testified that although the informant was intoxicated, he provided an accurate description of the car Boiani was driving, its license plate number, and the car’s general location. The name the informant provided to dispatch was consistent with the identification he provided to the officer in person. Under these circumstances, Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s determination that the informant was an identified informant with information reliable enough to warrant the stop.

Once the police made the stop and began speaking with Boiani, they noticed that Boiani was slurring his speech and his eyes were glassy. There was also a strong smell of alcohol. Based on these observations, the police had reasonable suspicion to investigate further and asked Boiani to step out of the car. When Boiani stepped out of the car, he was unsteady on his feet and refused to perform field sobriety tests. By this time, the police had probable cause to arrest Boiani for DUI. Because the police had reasonable suspicion for the stop and probable cause to arrest Boiani, the trial court properly denied his motion to suppress.