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Terry Stop — Basis – Informant: “Citizen” vs. “Confidential,” Generally

State v. Calvin R. Kolk, 2006 WI App 261
For Kolk: Michael Zell


¶12      … Though there is some confusion in the case law, we believe that the distinction is that a confidential informant is a person, often with a criminal past him- or herself, who assists the police in identifying and catching criminals, while a citizen informant is someone who happens upon a crime or suspicious activity and reports it to police. See State v. Doyle, 96 Wis. 2d 272, 286-87, 291 N.W.2d 545 (1980) (“[T]here is a difference between ‘citizen-informers’ and ‘police contacts or informers who usually themselves are criminals.’”) (citation omitted), overruled on other groundsState v. Swanson, 164 Wis. 2d 437, 475 N.W.2d 148 (1991). The difference between the two calls for different means of assessing credibility; in particular, a confidential informant may be trustworthy where he or she has previously provided truthful information, State v. Paszek, 50 Wis. 2d 619, 630, 184 N.W.2d 836 (1971), while a citizen informant’s reliability is subject to a much less stringent standard. Doyle, 96 Wis. 2d at 287; see also (Roosevelt) Williams, 241 Wis. 2d 631, ¶36 n.12 (maintaining lower scrutiny for citizen informant despite abrogation of test stated in Aguilar v. Texas, 378 U.S. 108 (1964)). Both may be distinguished from an anonymous informer, one whose identity is unknown even to the police and whose veracity must therefore be assessed by other means, particularly police corroboration. See Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325, 329 (1990).

¶13      Our courts recognize the importance of citizen informants and accordingly apply a relaxed test of reliability that shifts from a question of “personal reliability” to one of “observational reliability.” (Roosevelt) Williams, 241 Wis. 2d 631, ¶36 (citations omitted). However, “there must be some type of evaluation of the reliability of victim and witness informants, although the standard to be applied is much less stringent.” Doyle, 96 Wis. 2d at 287. “(T)he reliability of such a person should be evaluated from 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.” Id. (citation omitted).


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