Citizen Informants Versus Anonymous Tipsters, And How the Difference May Impact Your Florida Criminal Case

Informants have many different names. To some, their name is a “responsible member of society doing their civic duty.” To others, their name is narc, snitch, or rat. What’s important, if you’re facing criminal charges, is not what you’d call them, but what Florida law calls them, as the answer to that may pay huge dividends in your defense. An experienced Tampa Bay criminal defense lawyer can help you put together the most persuasive case, including making this and other crucial distinctions.

As an example, we can look at the DUI case of a St. Petersburg woman. Officers arrested the woman for leaving the scene of an accident (in addition to DUI.) Part of what led law enforcement to the woman was a statement provided by an informant.

The critical question in this woman’s case — and in cases like it — was… what kind of informant?

In Florida, having a police informant qualify as a “citizen informant” is helpful to the state. Citizen informants are people who give the police pertinent information, not only about what they saw happen, but who they are. A person who simply provides information about what occurred (and nothing about who they are) is considered an “anonymous tipster.”

So, you may wonder, what difference does that make?

Police Can Do More Based on the Word of a Citizen Informant

Police are comparatively limited in acting solely on the statements of an anonymous tipster. These limitations are grounded in the people’s constitutional rights and the police’s obligation to have a reasonable basis before taking action. Information from an anonymous tipster is generally considered unreliable. The police taking action based solely on unreliable information is typically not reasonable and that police action can represent a constitutional violation. Establishing such a violation may allow you to keep out essential prosecution evidence or even dismantle the state’s entire case.

On the flip side, the word of a citizen informant “falls at the high end of the reliability scale.” Whereas an anonymous tipster cannot possibly face repercussions for lying, a citizen informant is a known individual, so the latter does have something on the line. If the police can conclude that the informant intentionally lied, that informant can face serious consequences. That’s what gives these informants’ statements a higher degree of reliability. Based on that high reliability, police can reasonably take action based solely on that informant’s statements.

There are various ways you can establish that an informant was an anonymous tipster and not a citizen informant. One obvious thing is whether or not they gave the police their name or other identifying information. Another is how they communicated with the police. A person can potentially be considered a citizen informant simply by interacting with police face-to-face (as opposed to making a phone call.)

What that means is… if you can demonstrate facts like: the informant didn’t give their name, didn’t interact with police face-to-face, and/or didn’t provide the source of their information, then that informant may have been an anonymous tipster, and the police were not reasonable in acting solely based on that information.

From this case, you can see there are many different layers in the elements in a criminal case. The admissibility of an informant’s testimony involves detailed analysis, which also presents possible opportunities for you to discredit a prosecution informant and keep potentially harmful evidence out. When it comes to this and other essential steps in presenting a criminal defense, count on the skillful Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. to provide you with the powerful and effective defense advocacy you need for the best possible outcome. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

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