Sunday, July 03, 2011

OWI Appeal - Anonymous Tip OK for Traffic Stop Says Wisconsin Court


State of Wisconsin v. Coppens, Slip Copy, 2011 WL 2535535 (Wis.App.), an anonymous caller called into the police on a phone line that did not have caller ID. The caller reported that a male driver of a black car with license plate number 953 NRS had nearly hit him in the parking lot of a market. The caller reported that the man “could hardly walk into the store.”

On appeal, the defense claimed that the police did not have reasonable suspicion to stop his vehicle because the anonymous telephone tip that led to the stop lacked reliability and the officer only corroborated readily observable innocent details alleged by the caller.

The Wisconsin court described their test for these situations as follows:

"Information from an anonymous caller can create reasonable suspicion to justify an investigative stop when the caller provides reasonable indicia of reliability. There is no per se rule of reliability, but three factors inform our decision: (1) the caller's veracity; (2) the caller's basis of knowledge; and (3) whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the activity described by the caller describes an imminent threat to public safety. Drunk driving falls into the category of serious threats to public safety, and an officer is not required to wait to personally observe signs of erratic driving or intoxication." (citations omitted)OWI Appeal -

Most courts will find anonymous informers more reliable if they call into phone lines that are known to have Caller ID, or when the complaint is made face-to-face with a police officer, because these people risk being charged with making a false report if they were to lie. Wisconsin took this analysis one step further here:

"[W]e conclude that the caller presented sufficient indicia of reliability to justify the traffic stop. The record contains no reason to believe the caller would have known that the number he called was not equipped with caller identification. He had no basis for knowing how long it would take the police to respond and the officer could have arrived before the caller left the parking lot. Under the circumstances, a caller making a false report would run the risk of being identified and prosecuted if he deliberately lied. See § 946.41 (2009–10). There is also no reason to conclude that the caller purposefully withheld any identifying information or would not have provided his name if he had been asked. Under these circumstances, the record provides no reason to doubt the caller's veracity."

Applying the other factors, the court concluded that the stop was lawful, explaining:

"The caller also demonstrated sufficient basis of knowledge. He reported that he personally observed the driving and the degree of impairment. He reported specific details that showed how he came to know of the illegal activity. Olson was able to confirm that a black car driven by a male with a specific license plate number was present at the location the caller identified within a few minutes of the call. Even if some of these details were “innocent,” they provided Olson with a basis to test the reliability of the anonymous caller. See State v. Williams, 2001 WI 21, ¶ 37, 241 Wis.2d 631, 623 N.W.2d 101. If “an informant is right about some things, he is probably right about other facts that he has alleged, including the claim that the object of the tip is engaged in criminal activity.” Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 331 (1990).

Finally, the anonymous caller reported an imminent threat to public safety. Olson stopped Coppens on a busy roadway with both vehicle and pedestrian traffic. He was not required to endanger public safety by delaying the traffic stop until he could independently confirm Coppens' intoxication."

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