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Reasonable Suspicion – Reliability of Information

State v. Anthony J. Wilson, 2011AP1782-CR, District 4, 2/16/12

court of appeals decision (1-judge, not for publication); for Wilson: Joseph F. Fischer; case activity

A known citizen-informant’s report of a hit-and-run collision he observed, including pointing out the vehicle as it fled the scene, was sufficiently reliable to support reasonable suspicion for a stop, notwithstanding an inaccurate detail in the report (the vehicle’s color).

¶24      While not controlling here, State v. Sherry, 2004 WI App 207, ¶12, 277 Wis. 2d 194, 690 N.W.2d 435, is informative and supports this court’s conclusion.  In that case, an anonymous informant provided a tip that included the color of a vehicle expected to be used in a crime.  Because at the time of the investigation it was “dark out and the vehicle was a dark color” the investigating officer could not confirm that the color given by the informant matched the vehicle color.  Id.  However, the other information given by the informant, when considered in its totality, showed enough reliability to create reasonable suspicion.  Id., ¶23.  The identification in this case was similar to that in Sherry, at least insofar as that the tip included incorrect or unverified color information.

¶25      This court acknowledges, as Wilson asserts, that the record reflects that when the officer realized the color discrepancy, this caused him subjectively to doubt the reliability of the bouncer’s report at least to a degree, although he did proceed to detain Wilson.  However, the officer’s subjective beliefs do not determine whether the reliability of the tip remained sufficient to meet the objective standard of reasonable suspicion.  See State v. Buchanan, 178 Wis. 2d 441, 447 n.2, 504 N.W.2d 400 (Ct. App. 1993) (in reasonable suspicion analysis, “it is the circumstances that govern, not the officer’s subjective belief”).

¶26      In sum, the color discrepancy was not sufficient here to undermine reasonable suspicion to detain Wilson.

Stress laid on distinction between police and citizen informants (“relaxed test of reliability” as to latter), ¶¶14-16; reliability enhanced here, because the citizen not only observed the event but had a track record of providing reliable information to the police, ¶¶17-18.

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