Does Anonymous Tip Provide Basis for Ohio OVI Stop?

in Ohio, the general rule is that an anonymous tip will not give reasonable suspicion to the police to pull you over unless the police have some other corroborating evidence.

It is often the case that persons other than the police will perceive your driving as indicative of intoxication and then report you to the police. This has become a lot more common with the advent of mobile phones in cars. Keep in mind that if the police officers observe bad driving on their own, then the fact that a tipster was involved means nothing. Their own observations will likely rise to the level of Reasonable Suspicion. But there are cases where the police will pull a motorist over before they have themselves observed anything giving them Reasonable Suspicion.

For a Terry stop based upon the observations of an anonymous tipster to be constitutionally permissible, there must be corroborating evidence in addition to the tip in order to rise to the level of Reasonable Suspicion.

The United States Supreme 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 (1990), 496 U.S. 325 at 329.

Similarly, if you don’t commit any infraction in front of the police, an uncorroborated citizen-informant tip does not provide a reasonable basis for an investigatory stop. State v. Ramsey, 1990 Ohio App. LEXIS 4120 (September 20, 1990) Franklin App. No. 89AP-1298, unreported. The reasoning here is that if the police officer must have Reasonable Suspicion to make the Terry stop, then so must the tipster.

In looking at the touchstone of the Fourth Amendment, reasonableness, the Court concluded that it would be too easy for anonymous persons to make things up and the resulting infringement upon Fourth Amendment freedoms would be unacceptable. Thus an anonymous uncorroborated phone call to the police informing them that a car (described by license number, location, and general appearance) was being driven erratically was not sufficient to justify a Terry stop by the police. State v. Sheehan (1995), 72 OMisc.2d 58.

How a police officer gets this corroboration has changed under the law somewhat. For years, the United State Supreme Court followed the cases of Aguilar v. Texas and Spinelli v. U.S. In Aguilar, the Supreme Court held that there was a two-prong test which courts must use in determining whether or not an anonymous tipster was reliable enough to give the police Reasonable Suspicion. Firstly, there had to be evidence that the informant was either reliable, or that the facts the informant gave were reliable. For instance, if the officer had dealt with the informant in the past and had always received accurate information, then this would cut towards the informant’s reliability.

Secondly, there had to be facts showing the informant’s basis of knowledge, in other words, there had to be evidence showing how the informant came to know of the evidence he told the police about.

In Spinelli, the Supreme Court found that the two prongs of test of Aguilar were independent of each other, and that both prongs must be satisfied. A strong showing by the prosecution in one could not over come a weak or non-existent showing in the other.

Both Aguilar and Spinelli were overruled by the Supreme Court decision in Gates v. Illinois. In that case, the Supreme Court developed a “totality of the circumstances” test rather than the independent two-prong test from Aguilar and Spinelli. Aguilar and Spinelli are not dead, but they are now just factors to be considered in determining whether or not the police had Reasonable Suspicion rather than the dispositive test.