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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > February 2014 > Investigations and Interrogations (Reliance on Informants): In re B.A.R.

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Investigations and Interrogations (Reliance on Informants): In re B.A.R.

Question: Is an anonymous informant’s tip enough to create the reasonable suspicion necessary to stop a suspect, even without corroborating evidence?
Quick Answer: Usually, no. But when the officer has significant reason to believe the informant is genuinely concerned and credible, a court might treat the informant like an identified citizen and ignore the lack of corroboration.

In re B.A.R., Tenth Appellate District, Franklin County, Dec. 24, 2013
Facts: Columbus Police Officer Bill Graham was working special duty at the library when he was approached by a library patron. The patron told Graham that a group of “guys” had a firearm, were in the library “for less than two seconds,” and had “just left” the library. Officer Graham knew the patron had been in the library for a while, and the patron appeared to be a genuinely concerned citizen. Shortly after getting the tip, Officer Graham noticed three juveniles walking up the path to the library and matching the description provided by the patron. As soon as they saw Officer Graham, the juveniles turned around and moved quickly across the street. Officer Graham called for assistance, and Officer Amanda Kasza responded to the scene, where she detained the juveniles and searched them for weapons. Kasza discovered a firearm and a loaded magazine on B.A.R. At trial, B.A.R. argued that the library patron was an anonymous tipster, so officers needed corroborating evidence to create the reasonable suspicion necessary to conduct an investigative stop. The court disagreed.
Importance: A police officer may conduct an investigative stop of an individual when the officer has “reasonable suspicion” based on specific, articulable facts that a crime has occurred or is imminent. When the officer’s information is based on a tip from an informant, a court will look to whether the tip itself is reliable. Generally, tips from anonymous informants are less reliable and require independent corroboration. Tips from identified citizens, on the other hand, are considered highly dependable and usually do not require independent corroboration. In this case, the court treated the anonymous patron as an identified citizen for three reasons: 1) The patron approached the officer in person, which not only gave the officer the chance to observe the patron’s credibility, but also put the patron at risk of being held accountable for false information. 2) The officer knew that the patron had been in the library for a while, which made him more likely to be a genuinely concerned citizen. 3) The patron was close in time and space to the reported criminal activity, making the tip even more trustworthy.
Keep in Mind: Even when an anonymous informant gives you a tip in person, you should always try to corroborate the statement. Even though the B.A.R. court felt that Officer Graham’s observations were enough to verify the patron’s credibility, you should never rely on a court to give you the same break.
More on Interrogations and Investigations:
Wanna see this video? A victim reports that after responding to an ad for a date, he met a woman in an alley and was then assaulted by a man, who took his wallet and phone. While building your case, you show the victim video surveillance that shows the woman and man using the victim’s credit card to make purchases at three nearby stores shortly after the mugging. Unfortunately, the victim is unable to identify the man from the surveillance tapes, although he does recognize the woman who responded to his ad. Three days later, you show the victim a photo array that includes the man. The victim still cannot identify the man as the individual who assaulted him, but indicates that the man looks more familiar than the others. Did you compromise the photo identification by showing the victim the surveillance video? The court in Richardson said no, but only because the victim could not positively identify the man from the video and three days had passed between viewing the video and the photo array. Remember, it is the best practice to not show victims potentially influential evidence prior to a photo array. If the victim had been more certain that the man in the surveillance video was the man who robbed him, the outcome would probably be different. State of Ohio v. Richardson, Fifth Appellate District, Stark County, Dec. 23, 2013
Invocation or Mere Limitation?  You bring a suspect in for questioning. After Mirandizing him, you ask about a prior investigation by his parole officer. The suspect says, “If that's what this is about, I've, I've gotta shut down, because I can't, I can't answer questions with that without an attorney." You explain that the interview is not about any past investigations, but rather about recent allegations of inappropriate behavior between him and a minor. The suspect says that because he was on parole and a sex offender, he couldn’t “answer those questions without an attorney present.” After a few more questions, the suspect says, "Ok, let's just shut it down. … I need an attorney." You end the interview and leave the room. A little while later, the suspect asks to speak with you again. You re-Mirandize him, and he waives his rights a second time. The suspect then admits to sexual activity with a minor. Is the confession good despite the suspect’s statements? The court in O’Leary thought so, characterizing the first group of statements as limits on the questioning, rather than a definite invocation of O’Leary’s right to counsel. As such, the officer was not required to end the interview. It wasn’t until O’Leary finally said, "Ok, let's just shut it down. … I need an attorney" that his request became clear and he sufficiently invoked his Miranda right to an attorney. However, because O’Leary later voluntarily reinitiated contact with the officer and waived his rights a second time, the interrogation could start again, and the confession was admissible. State of Ohio v. O’Leary, Twelfth Appellate District, Butler County, Dec. 23, 2013