Citizen Informants: Can They Lead to Arrest?

Categories: criminal defense

informant shaking hands

In order to search and arrest an individual for a crime, police need evidence. This evidence must be sufficient to support the probable cause standard, or to create reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop. Sometimes this evidence is obtained through video or audio recordings, or by observation of the individual’s actions – such as seeing a car that is swerving across highway lanes.

In other situations, this evidence can come from anonymous informants, or a citizen informant. There are very clear rules that govern when an informant’s information can be used, but Wisconsin law is gradually broadening the ability to use anonymous informant tips.

What Are Citizen Informants?

Citizen informants are individuals who provide tips or information about alleged criminal activity, but may not necessarily have any close connection to that activity. For instance, they may report a crime that they have not actually witnessed, but only heard about. Or they may have seen activity that might be unusual – but not necessarily criminal.

Are Citizen Informants Reliable?

While the notion of citizen tips or anonymous reports may conjure up images of top secret crime networks and big exposés – they can also be used to report false information, or to retaliate against an individual.

For this reason, police can only use tips as a basis for a stop, search, or arrest when the tips are determined to be sufficiently reliable. Reliability requires consideration of three things:

  • The quality of the information
  • The reliability of the source
  • The quantity or content of the information provided

The more reliable the source, the less detailed the information provided needs to be. While anonymous tips typically require significant detail or corroboration to be reliable, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently determined that anonymous citizen informants may be considered more reliable because they are still acting with the intent to aid society and protect others.

In the case of State v. Mansfield, an unknown casino employee called the police and reported Mansfield as being in possession of marijuana. Mansfield was stopped and later arrested. He argued the stop was unconstitutional because it was based on an anonymous tip.

The Court of Appeals disagreed. They ruled that:

  • since the anonymous employee risked identification by calling from a traceable number, and
  • since the call came from a casino that had provided information to police in the past,
  • this made the anonymous employee a citizen informant and the information was reliable.

Disclaimer: This Article Is Not Legal Advice.
Never rely on an article for legal advice as the law frequently changes, information may not be accurate, there may be exceptions to a rule, and reliance may be detrimental. Always consult one of our experienced attorneys for competent, current, and accurate legal advice.

Assess the Constitutionality of Your Stop or Arrest with Wisconsin Criminal Attorneys

When an arrest occurs on the basis of an anonymous tip or citizen informant, defendants should always be suspicious of whether proper procedures were followed by police – or if constitutional violations occurred. While certain anonymous tips may now be deemed more reliable, the majority will continue to be questionable.

If you are concerned about the validity of the information being used against you in a criminal proceeding, or how that information as collected, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Crooks, Low & Connell, P.C. We can help you sift through these difficult issues. For more information, or to schedule a consultation, contact our offices online or at (715) 842-2291.