Reliable Enough for Probable Cause

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Fort Worth warrantless arrest attorneysWhen a probable-cause affidavit describes a “controlled purchase” that was performed by an individual whose credibility or reliability were unknown, is that (or can it be) sufficient to sustain a probable-cause determination?  The Court of Criminal Appeals said YES in Moreno v. State.

Moreno v. State: After receiving a tip from the Clovis, New Mexico Police Department that Appellant, Dimas Moreno, was distributing narcotics from his home, the Lubbock police department orchestrated a controlled purchase of drugs from Appellant. Officers enlisted the help of a confidential informant (“CI”), who was familiar with cocaine deals, to purchase crack cocaine from Appellant. The CI approached an unknowing participant in an effort to purchase the crack cocaine. The individual told the CI that he would go to Appellant’s house to pick up the crack cocaine. Police observed the individual go to Appellant’s house, enter, and exit a few minutes later. The unknowing participant then drove to the predesignated location and delivered the crack cocaine to the CI.

On the basis of these facts, a magistrate issued a warrant to search Appellant’s residence for crack cocaine and any other related contraband. After executing a warrant, police found the drugs and arrested Appellant. Appellant was subsequently charged with possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance in an amount of four or more but less than 200 grams. Appellant filed a motion to suppress, challenging the sufficiency of the affidavit. He claimed that there could be no probable cause when an affidavit describes a controlled purchase in which an unidentified individual of unknown credibility and reliability purchased the drugs.

The trial court held a hearing and denied Appellant’s motion. Appellant preserved his right to appeal, pled guilty and was sentenced to fifteen years’ confinement. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the affidavit was sufficient because probable cause was based upon police observations rather than upon any statements made by the unknowing participant.

To issue a search warrant, a magistrate must first find probable cause that a particular item will be found in a particular location. The magistrate must “make a practical, common-sense decision whether, given all the circumstances set forth in the affidavit before him, including the ‘veracity’ and ‘basis of knowledge’ of persons supplying hearsay information, there is a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime will be found in a particular place.”

In this case, the court of criminal appeals held that the police observations of the controlled purchase and the reasonable inferences therefrom were sufficient to support a finding of probable cause. It was reasonable for the magistrate to infer that the unknowing participant obtained the crack cocaine from Appellant’s house based on “common-sense conclusions about human behavior.” While it was possible that the third party obtained the cocaine from another source, Appellant presented no persuasive argument as to why the magistrate’s inference was unreasonable or whether the unknown participant had a motive to mislead the police. Therefore, the judgment of the court of appeals was affirmed.

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