How Identifiable Must Tipster Be

In Ohio, how much information the police must have on a tipster before he or she becomes an “identified citizen informant” will at times become an issue.

The police don’t have to know the tipster’s name. Courts have been lenient in their assessment of the type and amount of information needed to identify a particular informant. Many courts have found, for instance, that identification of the informant’s occupation alone is sufficient.

In one case, the court concluded that, although the informant’s name was unknown, information that he was a transporter of prisoners was enough to remove him from the anonymous informant category. United States v. Pasquarille (C.A.6, 1994), 20 F.3d 682. Left unexplained by this court’s ruling is how such a person would fear prosecution for registering a false tip. Further, if you don’t know the tipster’s name, then you can’t check up on whether or not he is telling the truth about his occupation.

Likewise, in another case, the court was satisfied with the knowledge that the informant was a bus driver whose identity was ascertainable. Edwards v. Cabrera (C.A.7, 1995), 58 F.3d 290 and State v. Loop 1994 Ohio App. LEXIS 1126 (Mar. 14, 1994), Scioto App. No. 93CA2153, unreported.

Furthermore, at least one Court has considered simple face-to-face contact to be enough. In State v. Ramey, the Court held that an unnamed informant who flagged down an officer to provide information concerning a suspected drunk driver was in no way “anonymous.” The court held that there is nothing even remotely anonymous, clandestine, or surreptitious about a citizen stopping a police officer on the street to report criminal activity.

Simple categorization of the informant as an identified citizen informant does not itself determine the outcome of this case in favor of Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause. Rather, it is one factor for the court to consider when looking at the reliability of the tipster. Maumee v. Weisner (1999), 87 Ohio St. 3d 295 at 302.

The Court will also examine the informant’s basis of knowledge. Typically, a personal observation by an informant is due greater reliability than a secondhand description. Illinois v. Gates (1983), 462 U.S. 213 at 233-234.

The fact that the tipster is contemporaneously reporting the events to the police as they happen also weighs in favor of the credibility of the tipster, and cuts in favor of Reasonable Suspicion and/or Probable Cause. Maumee v. Weisner (1999), 87 Ohio St. 3d 295 at 302.

Further, the Court will look into evidence of the tipster’s motivations. In a DUI case, if the tipster is an enemy or rival (such as a disgruntled significant other) of the person being reported, then this might cut in favor of the tip’s not supporting Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause. But in most DUI situations, the person will not know the suspect, and the Court may find that his tip’s credibility is enhanced by the simple desire to protect himself and the road going public. Maumee v. Weisner (1999), 87 Ohio St. 3d 295 at 302.

Similarly, the courts may extend greater credibility to an informant who initiates and permits extended police contact rather than one who phones in a tip and retreats from any further police interaction. Maumee v. Weisner (1999), 87 Ohio St. 3d 295 at 302.

If you need representation against drunk driving charges, you can call me at 614.580.4316. I don’t charge for initial consultations to see if I can help you. If you decide you want to hire me after we speak, then we can go from there on what it will cost.

Eric Willison