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6th Circuit: Use Common Sense, Seeing Drugs is Probable Cause

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By Kelly Cheung on May 17, 2013 10:01 AM

It was in Sidney Brown's house where officers found cocaine, a Beretta pistol, and $4,700 in cash. An anonymous informant notified the police of seeing cocaine at Brown's house and a search warrant was subsequently issued. Brown was convicted of drug related crimes. He appealed.

Sixth circuit criminal law attorneys should be aware of a recent court of appeals opinion clarifying what is sufficient informant information to create probable cause for a search warrant application. Evidently, a simple anonymous tip will do.

Brown appealed this particular conviction arguing that the police did not have probable cause based on this informant's information. Brown aimed to suppress the evidence against him relating to the drugs and drug dealing. In his view, the confidential informant was not reliable enough and the information was not corroborated before a warrant was issued.

The Sixth Circuit is going to use common sense and the totality of the circumstances to determine probable cause to search. Before you argue for your client to suppress evidence supporting it with an unreliable informant argument, review the court's opinion.

Based on an informant who had a track record with the police for giving accurate information leading to convictions, the law enforcement officer's reliance on the tip was sufficient to apply for a search warrant. It was reliable. The informant had previously provided information that led to at least two federal defendant convictions and the information had been accurate.

Brown argued for a more technical review of the information and of the informant exceeding what is necessary, according to the court. So long as the information was related to drugs and drug trafficking, the affidavit supported a search warrant based on probable cause. The court held that the informant does not need to detail specific crimes, when it happened, or who was involved.

On top of that, the court held that the police do not need to corroborate the information before seeking a search warrant. From a practical standpoint, police do not have the luxury of looking into each tip thoroughly before getting a search warrant.

The court affirmed the denial of a Motion to Suppress evidence seized based on a failure to establish probable cause for a search. It's important for practitioners to understand that anonymous tips do not have to be all that detailed to lead law enforcement to have probable cause for a warrant. The court reminds us that "[t]he affidavit is judged on the adequacy of what it does contain, not on what it lacks, or on what a critic might say should have been added."

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