Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sixth Circuit Discusses Requirements For Probable Cause

An anonymous informant notified police about the presence of cocaine in Sidney Brown’s house and a search warrant was subsequently issued. When the police arrived, warrant in hand, they found the cocaine mentioned by the tipster along with a pistol and several thousands of dollars in cash. Brown was eventually convicted on several drug-related crimes and appealed the case. The Sixth Circuit used the case, U.S. v. Brown, as an opportunity to clarify exactly what amount of information is sufficient to create probable cause for a search warrant application.

When Brown appealed, he argued that the police did not have probable cause to search his home based only on an informant’s information. Brown tried to suppress the incriminating evidence that the police had discovered relating to the drugs. Browns’ attorney argued that the confidential informant was not reliable enough and the information had never been corroborated before the warrant was signed by the judge.

The Sixth Circuit used the common sense and totality of the circumstances approach to determining whether there was sufficient probable cause to conduct a search. In this case, the Court found that the informant had a track record of reliability, having given accurate information to the police that had previously led to two convictions. Given this track record, the Court found that the police officer’s reliance on the tip was sufficient to apply for a search warrant.

Beyond agreeing that the information in this case came from a reliable source, the Court held that the police are not required to corroborate the information they receive from such an informant before seeking a search warrant. The Court said that the practical reason for this is that officers seldom have the time or resources to fully investigate each tip before requesting a search warrant.

Because of the court’s approval of the anonymous tip, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s denial of a Motion to Suppress evidence gathered as a result of the police search. The takeaway lesson from the case is that the Sixth Circuit made clear anonymous tips do not have to be overly detailed to be a valid basis for a search warrant. The Court reiterated that affidavits are judged on the adequacy of what they contain, not on the information that they lack.

To read the full opinion, click here.

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