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Types of Informants

By Chelsea Lund, Summer Associate

Thanks to television and movies, the use of informants in aiding law enforcement has become general knowledge. Movies portray detectives following up on a tip by a fellow policeman. TV shows depict policemen questioning their criminal “contacts” in relation to an investigation. News stations report on arrests being made based on anonymous tips received. But when the directors and scripts are taken away, what weight is actually placed on the information informants provide?

In general, courts have identified three classes of informants. First is the identified citizen informant. This type of informant, i.e. an off-duty policeman, is deemed the most reliable of the three and is highly-credited by the courts. Because of his or her status and experience, a tip from someone who falls under this category may be highly reliable, and, as such, “a strong showing as to other indicia of reliability may be unnecessary.” State v. Burnap, 2012-Ohio-2047.

The second class of informants is the known informant from the criminal world who has provided previous reliable tips. This informant has established a relationship with the authorities, both as a criminal and as a past informant with accurate information and a willingness to cooperate. Because of this, law enforcement tends to value these types of tips as somewhat reliable.

The third type of informant, probably the most common and well-known, is the anonymous informant. This type of informant is classified as the least reliable of the three. By itself, the information provided is not sufficient to justify legal action. As stated in Adams v. Williams (1972), “when a tip lacks an indicia of reliability, further investigation is required.”

But how does this relate to DUI’s? State v. Burnap (2012) establishes that a tip from an anonymous informant who suspects a person of driving under the influence is “not sufficient enough to demonstrate a reasonable and articulable suspicion that [the driver] was engaged in unlawful behavior.” In order to establish reasonable suspicion, the tip must be “sufficiently corroborated through independent police work.” Adams v. Williams (1972). In other words, even after a tip from an anonymous informant is relayed to an on-duty officer, an investigatory stop can only be made if the officer makes personal observations that confirm the informant’s tip (i.e. traffic violations, erratic driving, etc.). Without these, such a stop would violate the driver’s Fourth Amendment rights and would therefore be considered unconstitutional.

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