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Terry Stop – Reasonable Suspicion and Corroboration

State v. Joseph C. Miller, 2012 WI 61, affirming summary ordercase activity

¶5   We conclude that under the totality of the circumstances police acted reasonably when they conducted an investigatory stop of the vehicle that Miller was driving based on reasonable suspicion “that criminal activity may be afoot.”[5]  We are confident that police had the requisite reasonable suspicion primarily based on the reliability of the final informant and the information provided by him.  Such information was supported by the prior tips to police.  We note that while the initial tips were of limited reliability, the final informant and his tips had significant indicia of reliability because the informant provided self-identifying information that made him more reliable than a truly anonymous informant.[6]  Additionally, the final informant provided details and accurate future predictions that police were able to corroborate.[7]  We hold that the officers acted reasonably under the circumstances in stopping Miller based on the objective test set forth in Terry v. Ohio, which asks: “[W]ould the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or the search ‘warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief’ that the action taken was appropriate?”[8]  We conclude that the answer to that question is yes.

The tips came from three distinct sources in the months preceding the stop: a jail inmate awaiting parole revocation; an anonymous caller to a local hotline; and an informant who, while stating a desire to remain anonymous, nonetheless used his cell phone to call the officer. Discussion re: variable reliability of informants, ¶¶31-35.

¶34  The key to this analysis is the informant’s knowledge or presumed knowledge that a consequence of disclosing his or her identity is accountability for providing a false tip. Stated differently, police may infer that an informant who risks disclosing his or her identity is more likely to be providing truthful information because the informant knows that police can hold him or her accountable for providing false information.[21]

Lengthy survey of caselaw on reasonable suspicion and truly anonymous, and “self-identifying,” informants follows, ¶¶36-47. Applying those lessons:

¶52  The factor that weighs most heavily in our analysis is the fact that the tips by the final informant contained significant indicia of reliability, as was the case in Williams and Rutzinski, because here the informant was not truly anonymous.  We note that whether an informant is anonymous for the purpose of analyzing the informant’s reliability and credibility is not controlled by whether he or she wanted to remain anonymous.    Instead, a purportedly anonymous informant is not anonymous in this analysis if he or she provides self-identifying information such that we may infer that the informant knew that he or she could be held accountable for providing false information.  Rutzinski, 241 Wis. 2d 729, ¶32.

¶53  In this case, the informant told Deputy Berlin that he wanted to remain anonymous but nevertheless risked disclosing his identity to police.  Most significantly, the informant provided his first name and cellphone number to Deputy Berlin.  In fact, Deputy Berlin was able to call the informant back on his cellphone and reach him directly when Deputy Berlin had follow-up questions for the informant the morning of August 20, 2008.  Further, the fact that this informant contacted Deputy Berlin initially through one of the deputy’s confidential informants provides another avenue through which the final informant’s identity could have been discovered. Based on the testimony and arguments at the suppression hearing, the circuit court explicitly determined that this informant was more reliable because he risked disclosing his identity to police.  We agree with the circuit court’s determination because it is supported by the record and our precedent.  The facts here are similar to those in Williams and Rutzinski, where the informants did not disclose their identities outright but provided enough information from which we could reasonably infer that the informants realized that they could be tracked down for providing false information.

Tips from the jailhouse and hotline informants “were of limited utility standing alone” because they were stale, uncorroborated and originated with sources of unknown if not dubious reliability. Nonetheless, the information they provided could be taken into account, so that adding the cellphone informant to the mix tipped the balance in favor of reasonable suspicion, ¶¶57-58.

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