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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > April 2016 > State v. Woody, 2016 Ohio 752

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State v. Woody, 2016 Ohio 752

Question: Does an identified citizen informant who calls police to report a possible intoxicated driver provide reasonable suspicion for an officer to make a traffic stop to investigate?

Quick Answer: Yes, identified citizen informants are ascribed a high degree of reliability, allowing officers to investigate based on their information.

Facts: A local tow truck driver called the police to report a possible intoxicated driver. The caller provided his name, contact information, and present location to the dispatcher. Dispatch contacted a sergeant who was familiar with the caller. After receiving the radio call, the sergeant observed the suspect vehicle and began following it. He observed the driver weaving within the lane of travel and conducted a traffic stop. Woody was identified as the driver and smelled of alcohol. Subsequent field sobriety tests led to Woody’s arrest for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (OVI). He filed a motion to suppress, arguing the sergeant did not have reasonable suspicion to stop him, and the tip lacked the necessary reliability for the sergeant to act.

The trial court overruled his motion, and he was later convicted of OVI. Woody appealed the trial court’s ruling on the motion to suppress. The appeals court noted there are three types of informants: an anonymous tipster, a known confidential informant, or an identified citizen informant. As a general rule, anonymous tips require some type of independent corroboration. In this case, the court noted this was an identified citizen informant, and as such is ascribed a high degree of reliability. Although the sergeant did in fact corroborate the erratic driving behavior of Woody, it was not necessary to do so based on the tip.

Keep in Mind: When receiving information from dispatch about suspected criminal activity, officers should try to determine whether the identity of the caller is known before using the information as the sole basis to act.