Law Enforcement Bulletin

Sign up for newsletters and other news
Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > November 2013 > Proper Protocol (Reliance on Informants): State of Ohio v. Norwood

Law Enforcement Bulletin RSS feeds

Proper Protocol (Reliance on Informants): State of Ohio v. Norwood

Question: If you receive a tip from an “identified citizen informant” concerning an intoxicated individual located at a drive-through window of a Taco Bell, is this a basis to make a stop?
Quick Answer: Yes, if the tip is reliable and has been corroborated by independent police work.

State of Ohio v. Norwood, Eleventh Appellate District, Lake County, Oct. 1, 2013
Facts: Painesville Police Officer William Smith received a call from dispatch that a Taco Bell employee reported that a customer at the drive-through window was so intoxicated he could not even speak. The employee reported the man was driving a large green truck. A few minutes later, Smith and backup arrived at the Taco Bell and noted the green truck still at the drive-through window. The officers walked up to the truck and knocked on the window. Leonard Norwood, the driver, did not respond and started to drive away. Officer Smith, who was running beside the truck, ordered the driver to stop. Norwood came to a stop after nearly hitting the cruiser. The officers asked Norwood to exit the truck and noted a strong odor of alcohol. Norwood had difficulty keeping balance, and his speech was so slurred it took him two minutes to respond to a question. They arrested him for driving under the influence.
Norwood filed a motion to suppress the evidence of OVI, saying the officers were not justified in stopping him because they did not confirm the credibility of the tip, did not verify the truck in the drive-through was the same one noted in the tip, and did not observe Norwood engaging in criminal activity. The majority of the court disagreed, finding the officers were justified in relying on the informant’s tip and in making the arrest. One judge disagreed with the other judges, saying the officers had not made an effort to determine the informant’s basis of knowledge prior to initiating a stop.
Importance: A stop may be based on information received from an informant as long as it is reliable and corroborated by independent police work. Corroboration can be done through interviewing the informant, observations, or additional evidence. When determining the validity of an informant’s tip, an officer should consider the informant’s reliability and the basis of his knowledge. There are three kinds of informants: 1) anonymous informant; 2) known informants, and 3) identified citizen informants. Known informants and identified citizen informants are generally more reliable than anonymous informants. In this case, the tip was provided by an identified citizen and was presumed reliable.
Keep in Mind: Make sure you verify the accuracy of the tip prior to making the stop. As seen in this case, courts disagree what is enough verification or corroboration. The majority determined that arriving at the Taco Bell in three minutes and almost being run over was enough corroboration of the employee’s tip. But if the officer would have also yelled through the drive-through window, “Is this the guy you called about?” and the employee said, “Yes,” the dissenting judge probably would have found that to be more sufficient corroboration.
More on Informants
Multiple and Stale Tips: You receive a call from a neighboring jurisdiction that its officers are executing a warrant on a residential home suspected of selling drugs. They tell you they witnessed several individuals coming from the home, made subsequent traffic stops, and recovered pounds of marijuana and other evidence. They also tell you an individual who was stopped coming from the house told them he worked for a guy who lives in your jurisdiction and that guy told him to “clean out” the house. This isn’t the first time you have heard about this guy and, in fact, received an anonymous tip eight weeks ago that he regularly sold pounds of marijuana at a time. Based on these two tips, you begin surveillance and trash pulls. After several weeks you find marijuana stems, seeds, roaches, and shake. Did you have proper reliance on the “tips” to investigate? The court in Edwards says yes. In this case, the officers received two tips, and both sources identified Edwards as a drug trafficker. Even though one tip was anonymous and eight weeks old, taken together with the tip from the identified citizen, the police used independent investigation to corroborate the information. State of Ohio v. Edwards, Tenth Appellate District, Franklin County, Sept. 30, 2013.
An Informant’s Play-by-Play: A call comes in from an identified citizen driver that a green truck is unable to drive within its lane on I-71. The caller reports the truck has a yellow license plate with red letters and provides the license plate number, direction of travel, and vehicle description. The caller continues following the green truck and relaying observations to dispatch. The caller then tells dispatch the truck exited the freeway at exit 196 and ends the call. You are dispatched for the call and head to the exit to locate the driver. You exit the interstate at exit 196 and find two green vehicles at a stop light; one does not match the description. You speed up to the other green truck and find the license plate matches. The truck pulls into a liquor store parking lot, and you activate your lights. Prior to stopping the truck, you did not observe any driving infractions. Did you have reasonable suspicion to make the stop? The court in Rapp says yes. Even though the trooper did not witness the erratic driving as reported by the caller, the court determined the information provided by the informant had a high degree of reliability due to the totality of the circumstances. The caller was relaying information as she witnessed the events, including precise details and descriptions. The immediacy of the information being relayed and her motivation for reporting (safety) supports the informant’s tip as credible. State of Ohio v. Rapp, Ninth Appellate District, Wayne County, Oct. 7, 2013.
Other Protocol to Consider
Mental Health Information: Did you know courts are required to report certain mental health-related information to law enforcement? Ohio’s new Deputy Suzanne Hopper Act requires that courts report certain mental health-related information to law enforcement for entry in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Effective Sept. 4, 2013, the act amended Ohio Revised Code Section 2945.402 and added Section 2929.44 to require courts to report the following to the original law enforcement involved:
  • The conditional release of a person found incompetent to stand trial
  • A finding of not guilty by reason of insanity
  • Mental health evaluation or treatment orders for a person convicted of a violent offense
That law enforcement agency is then responsible for entering the mental health information into NCIC through LEADS so local officers can access it when needed. Law enforcement must access NCIC information through LEADS. Unlike items such as search warrants and protection orders, because this mental health information is provided directly to NCIC, an individual’s record cannot be flagged to indicate more information is available through LEADS. Information related to these reports is not available through OHLEG.