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Citizen informant’s tip supports probable cause to arrest for possesion of heroin

State v. Jimmie C. Johnson, 2015AP1233-CR, 2015AP2260-CR, 1/11/17, District 1 (not recommended for publication); case activity (including briefs)

When J.T. stepped out of her car in the parking lot of the West Allis Chuck E. Cheese she spotted a purple “Crown Royal” bag outside the driver’s door of the Chevy Tahoe next to her. It contained 69 aluminum foil folds. She took a photo of the license plate, went into the Chuck E. Cheese where she watched man get into the Tahoe, drive off, turn around, return to the parking spot and search for something. He then when into the Pet World next door where a video camera captured him searching for something.

J.T. took the bag to the police, emailed them a picture of guy’s license plate, and provided a description of him. Police ran the license plate, discovered it had received a parking citation at a North 52nd Street address, staked out the place, and 6 days later nabbed Johnson after he parked and walked toward several small business for just a few minutes. Johnson argued that the police did not have probable cause to arrest him. there was no evidence that he ever possessed heroin. The court of appeals found probable cause.

¶16 Accordingly, our courts have applied “a relaxed test of reliability, that ‘shifts from a question of personal reliability to “observational” reliability.’”  State v. Williams, 2001 WI 21, ¶36, 241 Wis. 2d 631, 623 N.W.2d 106 (citations omitted).  We judge the reliability of a citizen informant by “the nature of his report, his opportunity to hear and see the matters reported, and the extent to which it can be verified by independent police investigation” “some of the details of the information reported.”  Paszek, 50 Wis. 2d at 631-32.

¶17 J.T.’s tip falls squarely within the scope of a citizen informant.  J.T. had no personal interest in Johnson’s arrest; J.T. was merely a concerned citizen.  J.T. was not an anonymous informant as she was known to the police after first calling the police department and giving her name, and then coming in person to the police station with the recovered bag of drugs.  See State v. Sisk, 2001 WI App 182, ¶¶8-9, 247 Wis. 2d 443, 634 N.W.2d 877 (noting that a caller who provides his or her name is not anonymous and “a court can consider this factor in weighing the reliability of the tip”).  Bringing the bag of drugs to the police demonstrated proof of her first-hand knowledge of the events she conveyed to police.

¶18 The reliability of J.T.’s tip was strengthened by good police work, which corroborated the details of the information provided by J.T.  Williams, 241 Wis. 2d 631, ¶39-40.  J.T. gave the police a description of Johnson, including the clothes he was wearing, his race, and his approximate height and weight.  J.T. indicated that Johnson had come from the direction of the Pet World when she watched him return to his vehicle, and the officers were able to verify that an individual matching the description was in Pet World during that time.  J.T. also provided a photograph of the vehicle and the license plate of the vehicle the drugs were adjacent to, and officers were later able to verify that the same person identified by J.T. and corroborated by video surveillance was driving that vehicle.  We accordingly conclude that J.T. was a reliable citizen informant.

The court of appeals was not troubled by the lack of direct evidence that  Johnson ever possessed heroin or made a drug transaction based on State v. Secrist, 224 Wis. 2d 201, 589 N.W.2d 387(1999).

¶21 . . . In Secrist, the court found that the mere odor of marijuana, where it could be linked to a person, established probable cause to arrest as “common sense” dictates that “a crime has probably been committed.”  Id. at 217-18.  Here, we have a bag of drugs, not simply an odor, and police were able to sufficiently link Johnson to the bag through J.T.’s report as well as independent investigation.

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